Marine Science Students Build A Satellite Drifter

College of the RedwoodsNews: Mendocino Coast
May 17, 2010 – 4:02:19 PM

Students in the Marine Science Technology Program (MST) have recently built and deployed an ocean drifter designed to study California coastal currents. The drifter is a four-and-one-half foot tall by four foot wide structure made of PVC pipe, vinyl “sails” and a package containing a satellite transmitter. The drifter is designed to float just below the surface of the ocean so that its path is largely unaffected by the wind. A satellite tracking device protrudes above the ocean surface so the path of the drifter can be monitored by MST students, scientists and the public.

It was dropped into the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday May 11 with the help of the F/V Trek II about two miles offshore of Noyo Bay. The students have been waiting for ideal oceanographic conditions to drop the drifter to utilize the dominate California Current that flows from north to south, fueled by a northwest wind pattern. Strong northerly winds also foster coastal upwelling that pushes surface waters offshore. Upwelling brings cold, nutrient-rich waters to the surface and sustains the tremendously diverse coastal ecosystem along the Mendocino Coast. Information gathered by the drifter will be used in future MST Program classes, such as the Oceanography class that will be offered this coming fall semester. Even if ocean currents force it up on the beach, the drifter can be recovered and redeployed unless it is too damaged.

Funding and support for the project came from the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) program in Monterey via a grant from the National Science Foundation. Scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts provided materials and technical support to assist CR students to assemble the drifter, and the federal National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has donated the satellite time to track the drifter.

Marine Science Technology students on the Mendocino Campus are hoping to see how changes in wind and currents affect the path of their drifter. Watch the MST web page ( for a future link that will allow you to track the path of the drifter along with the MST students. You can access a real-time google map with the drifter location updated every four hours at the following address:

© Copyright College of the Redwoods

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar