Large quantities of shells, crabs, jellyfish, but also objects such as fishing nets, cartons of milk, bottles (with or without mail) and shoes are washed on the beach. Some of these objects come from afar and float on the ocean surface for months or even years. These beach washes are great for the beachcombers among us, but they also keep oceanographers busy.
Where and when objects floating in the ocean reach land depend on a number of factors such as current, wind, and waves. Even with these factors in view, the ocean remains unpredictable, according to research by a group of Australian scientists. These scientists used special floating equipment, a kind of intelligent rubber duck, to study how wind, currents, and waves affect an object floating in the ocean.
Predict where the ocean would jam floating objects
To understand how the current moves in the sea, buoys with built-in sensors and trackers are normally used. Thanks to these trackers, the satellites indicate where the buoys are located. However, these trackers do not work very precisely. At least not to study how objects floating on the surface of the sea move and what elements they influence. The Australian Coastal and regional oceanography laboratory has therefore approached research on floating objects on the ocean surface in a different way.
The group of researchers used “Carthe GPS dinghies”. These intelligent floating “rubber ducks” measure current up to 40 centimeters below the ocean’s surface. The research team launched three of these biodegradable Carthe dinghies. However, the purpose of the study was not to see where the intelligent rubber ducks were going to fail. The most important thing was to study the effects of currents, wind and waves on where they would land.
In practice, this information can be used, for example, to predict where and when a large number of Portuguese warships (not the real ships, but the super dangerous blue jellyfish) are stranded. With the knowledge of this information, swimmers, surfers and other beach goers can be warned in time not to enter the water.
The three “rubber ducks” washed up on the same beach, or not?
All three dinghies were launched from the same location. However, they ran aground hundreds of kilometers apart. The first two dinghies landed on a beach a little over a month after their launch. However, the two dinghies took a completely different route across the ocean and ran aground in different places. One drifted about 180 kilometers south and ran aground at Wollongong. The other drifted about 250 kilometers south and ran aground in Jervis Bay. The third wanderer ran aground a little later, just north of the launch site.
What the research shows is that it is very difficult to predict where a floating object will run aground. Even when faced with the same factors and left in the same place in the water. A rubber duck, shoe or bottle can roam the sea for a few months and float for hundreds of kilometers before running aground. Where does it end? It determines the ocean.
Are you thirsty for more scientific research and fun facts? Read here why stress gives you gray hair due to stress, according to a Harvard study.