Building drifters and a network of fishermen to deploy them off the New England coast

1. We propose to directly address priority area #4c in work towards predicting “ effects of land use practices on contaminant input to estuarine and coastal ecosystems". We have an existing network of academic, research, and industry partners who have been working together over the past four years and are ideally suited to address the exchange processes in and out of our coastal embayments. Lobstermen have successfully deployed student-built satellite-tracked drifters in the coastal currents of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. These units have now collectively logged over 30,000 kilometers. They have helped in a variety of studies in documenting degree of advection and dispersion of, for example, lobster larvae, harmful algal blooms, and nuclear radiation. By continuing our unique collaboration, we have a formula to address a variety of issues associated with processes affecting our coastal waters.

2. Our objectives fit perfectly within the mission of CICEET in "fostering collaboration between academia, government and the private sector”. Thanks to funding from the Northeast Consortium over the past four years, we have promoted collaborative research and development and the exchange of ideas. Our objective is to follow up on one of the most successful components of our NEC work, developing low-cost strategies to both track and model water parcels along the coast and into estuaries. By involving both students and fishermen from a variety of locations around Northern New England, we want to respond to environmental events as they occur in a more realtime sense.

3. The methods we use are simple. We supply active lobstermen with oceanographic instruments for deployment using strict scientific protocols. Lobstermen are often able to deploy the instrumentation while at sea during regular fishing activity. In the case of our current drifter study, for example, lobstermen assemble the unit, usually with the help of a student or scientist, and release it from their vessel at the location, depth, and tidal phase determined in the survey design. Fishermen downstream of the deployment assist with reporting and recovery operations.

We propose to adapt this protocol to meet CICEET objectives by supplying lobstermen along the New England coast with ready-to-deploy satellite drifters, specially designed for testing and deployment both inside and outside estuaries and harbors. These individuals will be trained to respond to emergencies and deploy drifters in real situations such as oil spills, extreme harmful algal blooms, and extreme river runoff periods. We will continue to work with students at Southern Maine Community College to design and engineer these units.

We will have a set of "trial deployments" to test the new drifter designs. Each trial deployment will be conducted from a different lobster boat to provide both vessel captains and students with experience in the operation and, at the same time, data in different areas and types of coast. We will work in cooperation with the lobstermen associations to coordinate this effort.

4. Given our existing infrastructure and experience, we can design and build a set of drifters during the school year at SMMC in time for testing during spring and summer of 2006.

  1. The most expensive aspect of any physical oceanographic sampling scheme is typically the ship time and mooring configuration. Lobstermen are well suited to help in this regard, particularly for navigating in and around the shallow estuarine environments filled with fishing gear. Oceanographic research vessels are typically too large and unwelcome in these waters. Our project has successfully developed a satellite tracked-drifter for less than $1.2k this past year, cutting the cost of these units by more than one half. We believe that with some additional funding and student involvement, it will be possible to construct a full array of drifter products designed for different aspects of research around the Gulf of Maine. Can we make a drifter that is suited for the marsh environment that will not get hung up so easily in mud and eel grass? We believe we can.

    There is an increasing interest in the exchange of water in and out of estuaries. Given the complexity of the topography and variability due to tide, river, and wind, it is often difficult to document the long-term mean circulation patterns in these areas. This is the primary motivation in developing low-cast sampling schemes to allow for the multiple deployments needed to generate the statistical confidence. Many environmental impact statements on various aquaculture endeavors, for example, are based on a few short mooring deployments at a limited number of site locations. To fully resolve the complexities of the current field, multiple deployments of low cost drifters are needed.

  1. The project is designed with portability in mind. A "trial deployment" of newly developed drifters from several lobstermen’s vessels will provide us the experience of applying our methods and instrumentation to a variety of situations and locations. Our long-term goal is to implement the same strategies in different environments under different conditions.

  2. There are several potential end users.

  3. The US Coast Guard Research and Development Lab in Groton, Ct., for example, has expressed interest in collaborating in both search and rescue operations and oil spill response. We believe we can eventually have drifters ready and deployed within the first few tidal periods (6-24 hours) following a event/spill. On the industry side of things, we imagine local fish farms eventually being interested in our operations. We hope to develop protocols for both measurement and modelling the effective site-specific dispersion. There is also a number of research commnuities that could benefit from having a local network to fast-responders. In the right whale commnuity, for example, several lobster and marine patrol boats have already been outfitted with disentanglement gear and act at the “first responder” to entangled whales to assist while professional teams are deployed. In April and May 2005, our new “drogued drifter”, under-development by SMCC students this winter, will be tested on board a marine mammal research cruise in the Great South Channel to track the movements of zooplankton concentrations. In July 2005, more than a dozen of our drifters will be deployed by Dr. Lew Incze off the mouth of Penobscot Bay for purposes of documenting exchange bewteen the coastal current and estuaries downstream. A total of 41 of our drifters have been used by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in the last few years to track, among other things, harmful algal blooms.

  4. As in our past work, we strive to make all data accessible in a variety of ways via the web. We envision managers and the public alike visiting our website (emolt.org) to view both observed and modeled products in an interactive environment. We have successfully implemented an internet mapping utitity (MapServer) that allows users to select various GIS layers and to zoom-in to areas of interest. Our objective has been to archive as many drifters tracks as possible from both historical studies and our own so that users can select various times and places to see all available trajectories.


9. There will be at least five groups of "participants" involved in our effort:

  1. Maine and Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Associations will each identify three lobstermen and assist with outreach. Each lobstermen will deploy drifters on at least two days of "trial deployment".

  2. Southern Maine Community College students and faculty will be responsible for helping to design drifters, build prototypes, and participate in "trial deployments”.

  3. The Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation will coordinate all aspects of the project.

  4. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist will be responsible for coordinating drifter design, processing and archiving drifter tracks, website design, and coordinating with the numerical modelers.

  5. Dartmouth College numerical modeler will be responsible for making simulations associated with each of the "trial deployments" to include the effect of realistic topography, real time winds, river input, and best estimate of offshore tidal forcing.


10. Budget Justification




For further information contact: James.Manning@noaa.gov

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