On November 21, 2008, two Endicott students hitched a ride with Therese Sauvageau, captain of the lobster boat Sea Anchor stationed in Beverly, MA to launch a drifter buoy that will monitor currents in the Atlantic Ocean. Their mission was part of a collaborative research effort linking Endicott with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and several other research institutions located on the Northeastern seaboard.

Data transmitted from the research buoy will be used to support modeling efforts by Mingshun Jiang at UMASS, Boston.  His models predicting surface currents are important in many research endeavors since modeling the flow of these currents helps predict where lobster larvae will settle and grow into adulthood and where toxic algal blooms (which have severely impacted shellfish beds in New England in recent years) will occur.

Kaleigh Thompson (Environmental Studies, 2011) and Leigh Riley (International Studies, 2011) waited all week for favorable conditions, and on Friday, November 21 at 0700, the pair headed out with Captain Sauvageau into the early morning light and cold northeast winds to set Endicott’s first drifter buoy into the waters of Massachusetts Bay. In the weeks prior to the launch, Professors Mari Butler and Matt Staffier worked with Jim Manning of NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center to construct the buoy, install and test the GPS transmitter, and coordinate the details of the venture.  Melissa Knickerbocker (Environmental Studies, 2011) was also involved in preparing the transmitter for its harsh journey on the ocean currents.

As the buoy drifts along the coast, its position will be tracked and the data will be combined with data received from other buoys – including those launched by UNE, UNH, SMCC, WHOI, Bowdoin, and UMass Dartmouth – to refine mathematical models that predict the paths of surface currents. Drifter buoys associated with this research endeavor have already traveled well over 60,000 miles of ocean, some heading out as far as the Grand Banks off the coast of Newfoundland.  Unfortunately, many of the buoys are lost at sea, and when the signal from Endicott’s buoy temporarily ceased over the weekend, there was concern that the rough waters had damaged the unit.  On Monday morning, however, transmissions resumed, easing fears that the drifter was lost for good. 

Endicott’s involvement with the project began this fall, when a buoy launched by UNH drifted to the shoreline near campus. Alerted by Jim Manning, Professor Mari Butler swam out to retrieve it, aided by fellow Environmental Studies professors Matt Staffier and Chris Tripler. Since there are not many buoys monitoring the waters off the coast of MA’s North Shore, especially during the winter months, Manning suggested that Endicott construct and launch a drifter of its own.  With support from Dr. Wylie and Dr. Rossi-Le, a buoy was purchased.

Endicott’s four-sail, four-floater model, dubbed “Nomad I”, is the result of extensive collaboration between scientists, professors, students, and local boat captains, and it will hopefully transmit valuable data for several weeks before, with any luck, it drifts back to shore to be spruced up and launched again.  This project has been enthusiastically supported by both the college and local lobstermen since a healthy marine ecosystem benefits everyone.

Endicott Students Launch Research Drifter Buoy

Track Endicott’s buoy drifter here:  http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/drifter/
For more information on NOAA’s surface drifter project and other projects: http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/epd/ocean/MainPage/emolt.html