Thursday, November 7, 2013

Building Drifters for the SCOPE Project

Photo courtesy of CARTHE
Next month, scientists from Florida State University and the University of Miami will release 200 coastal drifters from Okaloosa Island, FL as part a scientific experiment designed to investigate how currents and waves affect the movement of oil and other toxins onto shore.  A group of high school students from schools throughout Florida have been invited to participate in this hands-on experiment by designing and building their own drifters which will then be deployed in the December drifter release. 

“What we want to understand is how oil ends up on the beach, and that starts with having oil — in this case, simulated with drifters — outside the surfzone,” explains Ad Reniers, an associate professor of applied marine physics who is the lead investigator Surfzone Coastal Oil Pathways Experiment (SCOPE). 

Scope is part of the Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment, or CARTHE, an initiative charged with predicting the fate of oil released into the environment to help inform and guide response teams. CARTHE, along with the Deep-C Consortium, are challenging students to create new and improved drifters that can help scientists learn more about currents and waves in the Gulf of Mexico.

More About Coastal Drifters
Oceanographers use drifters to collect data and track ocean currents and eddies.  Typically, drifters are deployed from a vessel (a ship or, in this particular case, a jet ski).  Once released, they float along with the ocean currents, for days, months, and even years.  Drifters provide data on their location and speed to scientists via Global Positioning System (GPS) units, so researchers use them to learn how the currents and waves affect the movement of particles (such as oil or pollutants) in the ocean. 

Students in Miami testing their homemade drifters
The Challenge! 
We want students to create drifters that will move with the surface currents near the coast/beach/surf zone. Participants should consider possible new materials that might be best for future scientific research (biodegradable vs plastic, colors, weight, ability to float, etc). Also consider wind, currents, storms, boats, etc. Unless a drifter is correctly designed, it may be blown by the wind rather than transported by the current.  Or worse yet, it may not be able to withstand the constant pounding of powerful ocean waves. 

Important Criteria for Surf Zone/Coastal Drifters 
  • First... must be able to float!
  • Next, it needs to include a GPS unit via straps, Velcro, zip ties, or something that will attach the unit to the drifter;
  • It must be durable and sturdy... able to take a withstand rain, wind and constant movement in the waves;
  • It must be small and light enough to be carried on a jet ski (less than 10 kilos, but 3-5 kilos is better);
  • It should be easy to hold on to (some have handles or something that can be easily grasped during deployment);
  • And, it cannot be deeper than 50 cm.
If you have been selected to participate in this experiment, be sure to ask questions in the comment section for help and advice on drifter building from one of our experts!  And watch the video below for more information about drifters.

Helpful Resources

Calculating Buoyancy
How to Calculate Buoyancy 
Totally Submerged Object in Water
 Objects Volume = 1ft3
Specific Weight of Water (γWater) = 62.4lb/ft3
FB = 1ft3 x 62.4lb/ft3 = 62.4lb  
                                                       How to Calculate Buoyancy 
Object 50% Submerged in Water
Objects Volume = 1ft3
Submerged volume = 0.5ft3
Specific Weight of Water (γWater) = 62.4lb/ft3
FB = 0.5ft3 x 62.4lb/ft3 = 31.2lb

Posted by:
Amelia Vaughan,
Ocean Science Educator


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