April 30, 2016
by Martha Shanahan
School is going to sea.
week Dow, a sailor, expertly tightened the knots holding the sail to the vessel
that soon will be set adrift somewhere off the coast of Massachusetts.
wanted to do something related to boats,” she said. “I know a lot about wind
patterns and currents, so that’s helped.”
mini, unmanned boat is a far cry from the ones Dow operates as a member of
a local sailing team.
this one hopefully will make it all the way to Europe, wash up on shore and be
found by an unsuspecting boater or beachgoer.
body is decorated with stickers, and the hull inside will hold stuffed animals,
T-shirts and a thumb drive of messages about Waterford for whoever finds it.
it’s still seaworthy, (they’d) find it and put it out on another voyage,” Dow
the best-case scenario.
may end up swirling around in the middle of the ocean,” Waterford science
teacher Michael O’Connor said.
the same time that the NOAA researchers launch the boat, the scientists also
will launch a drifter — an aluminum pole with a lobster buoy
— that Dow made with underwater canvas sails designed and built by a class
of fourth-graders at Quaker Hill Elementary School.
two vessels will join thousands of others of boats and drifters launched from
U.S. schools that NOAA has helped track through a program called Educational Passages.
launched through the program have survived hurricanes, been picked up by
tankers and even made the whole trip across the Atlantic.
uses information from the GPS trackers on the drifters and boats to research
ocean currents, O'Connor said.
a lot of applications to knowing how the water's moving," O'Connor said.
The Quaker Hill students wrote on a canvas that will sit below the drifter,
catching the currents and pushing it along.
of the fourth-graders just wrote their names. Others wrote more cryptic
messages, like “I am Tom, who are you?”
rest are hard to read.
just thought if you wrote random hashtags, that would work,” Dow said.
two teachers’ email addresses also are written on the sails, in case
someone finds the drifter and wants to let them know.
aboard the research vessel Neil Armstrong took the boat and drifter with them
when they left on a weeklong mission Friday.
deposit the vessels into the Atlantic Ocean, just where the underwater
landmass under North America drops off into the ocean.
direction the vessels will go in, and how fast, are mostly mysteries
until the launch.
could get picked up by the Gulf Stream that pushes water from North America
toward Africa and Europe.
they could get stuck in the rotating ocean currents, destined to circle the
O’Connor’s classroom last week, Dow recited O’Connor’s lesson about Ekman
transport — in short, the principle that ocean water in the Northern
Hemisphere moves at a 90-degree angle to the direction of the wind.
research about ocean currents can predict where the boat may end up —
probably somewhere near Portugal, O’Connor said — but there’s no
O’Connor, the Quaker Hill students and other Waterford High School students in
O’Connor’s class will be checking the progress of the boat and drifter over the
said she'll be working at a summer camp with limited access to the NOAA tracking website.
when she can, she'll be updating the Twitter account @DrifterWHS with any news.
"I'm just hoping a giant cargo ship doesn't run it over," Dow said.