Drifting At Sea

  • Released Thursday, October 8th, 2015
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 1:49PM
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When a research buoy is released in the ocean, where does it go? In a visualization experiment using ocean buoy data from NOAA's Global Drifter Database, NASA data visualizers depicted the migration of these floating science platforms in Earth's oceans. Over the last 35 years, NOAA has deployed thousands of ocean buoys worldwide. The buoys travel with currents, collecting important measurements of ocean properties like temperature and salinity that scientists use for weather forecasting and verifying observations from Earth-observing satellites. In the visualization, the buoys are seen migratating over time to five known gyres in the ocean where marine debris accumulates, the so-called ocean garbage patches. The visualizers used a computational model of Earth's ocean currents and virtual particles to confirm the result. Watch the video to learn more.

This image shows the start location of more than 17,000 ocean buoys (white dots) deployed by NOAA since 1979.

This image shows the start location of more than 17,000 ocean buoys (white dots) deployed by NOAA since 1979.

Observations show a general pattern of the buoys collecting in large rotating currents in the ocean called gyres.

Observations show a general pattern of the buoys collecting in large rotating currents in the ocean called gyres.

The locations of the gyres coincide with five zones in the ocean, known as garbage patches, where marine debris accumulates.

The locations of the gyres coincide with five zones in the ocean, known as garbage patches, where marine debris accumulates.


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NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio