Drifter Buoy

By Maura M.,  Annika S, Caroline S. and Olivia W.

Do you know what a drifter buoy is? A drifter buoy is a buoy that collects ocean temperatures. The buoy is usually a large, gray, plastic ball with an antenna extending from the top and mechanical equipment inside that can detect changes in water temperature. Scientists use these buoys to collect information. The antenna transmits information back to the scientist via satellite. You can imagine that if there are several thousand buoys floating around the oceans of the world, quite a bit of information is collected. Scientists can piece together the information to get a better sense of the earth and changes that are occurring on it.

Mr. Tanenbaum, our computer teacher, with the help of our teacher Ms. O’Brien, has spearheaded a project to build and release a drifter buoy. Mr. Tanenbaum shared his idea for the project with us and showed us slides and short videos on the computer to help us understand ocean currents and ocean temperatures. Then he gave us our first challenge, we had to try to create a “buoy” with an “antenna” sticking out of it out that would stay upright so that the antenna could transmit information. Well, first we paired up and experimented with Styrofoam balls, glue gun sticks, metal washers, fishing line and any other materials that we thought might be helpful. The model buoys we designed with partners were put into a tub of water and were tested to see if they stayed straight up and moved with the current instead of with the wind. A fan simulated the wind, and we swished the water around in the tub to represent the currents. In the process of making the real buoy, you have to get special materials and think back to the results of your model buoy experiments. Our real buoy has a large round, plastic shell with a blue crawl tube extending from it. This is called a drogue sail, and its purpose is to keep the buoy upright and moving with the current. We used hooks, ropes and chains (all durable items) to attach the sail to the buoy and to help the buoy survive the ocean and it’s currents.
In addition, we drew designs and voted on which one to use to decorate our buoy shell. The logo on the buoy is to be “Excalibur the Great.”

We had to learn a great deal about the ocean, and one way we did this was to have a scientist named Andreas Thurnherr from Lamont Doherty come in to talk to us about his job as an oceanographer. He showed us a slide show about the ocean, his time aboard research ships and animals he has encountered on his travels, like penguins in Antarctica. We asked him questions, and he answered them thoughtfully.

For the past few months, our class has been studying global warming. We learned that research shows that the earth is getting warmer and there is a possibility of coastal areas flooding because glaciers are melting. Our research has included reading books, articles and Internet sites and viewing segments of the movie, An Inconvenient Truth. We wrote an article about what we learned about the topic as part of our nonfiction unit.

Our next steps are exciting. We will soon take a field trip to the Hudson River to observe Mr. Tanenbaum release the buoy into deep water from his kayak as a test. Any necessary changes will be made before the buoy is released in ocean waters as Mr. Tanenbaum once again heads out to sea aboard a research vessel in mid May to mid June. The information from the buoy will be posted on a website we are to create.

What an experience we have had, and there is more to come!