The Global Drifter Program

Satellite-tracked surface drifting buoys

The Global Drifter Program

Satellite-tracked surface drifting buoy observations of currents, sea surface temperature, atmospheric pressure, winds and salinity. More information ...


Database Update:

Database has been updated through February 2018. (As of May 2018). Download all data
Subsets of database are also available through February 2018. Download subsets of data

Many historical drogue off dates have been reevaluated. As of November 2013, the drogue reevaluation project was finished. See Lumpkin et al. (2013) [PDF] for details.

Please note: We now have 4 separate data files and their respective directory files, since we recently exceeded 20,000 records and the latest data file was getting very large. There were some modifications made to some of the older files. If you downloaded data from any data files prior to May 2016, please please reload all files since they were all updated. buoydata_1_5000.dat-gz, dirfl_1_5000.dat buoydata_5001_10000.dat-gz, dirfl_5001_10000.dat buoydata_10001_15000.dat-gz, dirfl_10001_15000.dat buoydata_15001_feb18.dat-gz, dirfl_15001_feb18.dat

May 1, 2018:

Milestone reached

On Tuesday, May 1, 2018, NOAA's Global Drifter Program reached a significant milestone: the 25,000th drifter deployment since the start of the program in 1979. The drifter was one of four deployed by Volvo Ocean Race boats off the coast of Brazil during Leg 7 of the race. Worldwide deployments are coordinated by the Global Drifter Center at NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in collaboration with numerous national and international partners. The drifters measure ocean currents, sea surface temperature (SST), and barometric pressure; these observations improve weather forecasts, ocean state estimation, satellite measurements of SST, and our understanding of how the ocean transports properties, tracers, and debris.

April 5, 2018:

Outreach Activities

The Global Drifter Program (GDP) works closely with various organizations around the world to promote public awareness and increased utilization of drifting buoy data. Some of the leading GDP public outreach partners include: Adopt a Drifter Program which provides teachers with an educational opportunity to infuse ocean observing system data into their course curriculum, also, in conjunction with the International SeaKeepers Society, the Global Drifter Program is working with private vessel owners to deploy drifting buoys throughout the worlds oceans. SeaKeepers encourages drifter deployments that enhance the Global Drifter Array . Thus far Seakeepers has deployed 32 drifters since 2014, 14 of which are still alive.
Since 1973, competitors aboard world class sailing vessels have circumnavigated the globe during the Volvo Ocean Race Volvo Ocean Race known as the longest and toughest professional sporting event. Through hull re-designs, to crew sampling, to the deployment of drifting buoys, the Volvo Ocean Race is more than just a race! Since November 2017 VOR has deployed 19 drifters for the GDP of which 16 are still alive.

February 14, 2017:

A news item in EurekAlert, the news service of the AAAS, highlights a recent study that uses drifter data to improve our understanding of how ocean garbage gyres form. The study was lead by Francisco Beron-Vera of the University of Miami.

November 1, 2016:

NOAA's Global Drifter Program is transitioning the array from Argos to iridium and including the newer Iridium data in its quality-controlled data set. Read MORE

September 8, 2015:

A recent analysis of drifter trajectories conducted by CSIRO researcher David Griffin has shown that debris from Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, which was recovered on La Reunion Island, could have plausibly come from the region currently being searched for the aircraft wreckage.

March 12, 2015:

Round the world sailors help NOAA gather data in Southern Ocean to improve forecasts that is a link to this story:

February 18, 2014:

In conjunction with the Drifter Deployment Value maps, you can now download the ascii file containing assigned values, by latitude and longitude.

December 2, 2013:

The first drifter deployment from the Atlantic Odyssey fleet of private sailing vessels was deployed on 26 November. For more information on these deployments, click here

July 18, 2013:

In an effort to better maximize drifter deployments, the Global Drifter Program has created regional deployment maps that assign values to each of the drifters within the Drifter Array. Each drifter value is determined by the number of operational sensors, drogue presence, drifter age, and spacial coverage in conjunction with nearby drifters. Assessing these values on a regional scale will allow program coordinators to better maximize their deployment efforts and increase the quality of drifter spacial coverage. To utilize these new value maps, click here

July 9, 2012:

The Global Drifter Program metadata (directory) file has been updated to reflect the reassessed drogue loss dates for a large number of drifters. For more information, refer to Lumpkin et al. (2012) (JAOT, accepted October 2012) [PDF] . Many drifters now have earlier drogue off dates; we recommend that all users of the velocity data download this update. For the latest results of the ongoing reassessment, click here.

April 27, 2012:

In celebration of Earth Day,three students from the Key Biscayne K-8 Center, Key Biscayne, FL deployed a NOAA drifter today as part of the Adopt-A-Drifter Program, in partnership with students from the International Preparatory School in Santiago, Chile. The three Florida students were top winners in a competition to describe the significance of the ocean in their lives. The drifter, ID 37546, was deployed in the Florida Current and can be followed in real time here . As part of this event, Dr. Rick Lumpkin was interviewed on the Weather Channel where he described NOAA's Global Drifter Program, and the Adopt-A-Drifter outreach effort. Watch interview

May 2011:

A new study demonstrates that a significant fraction of drifters in the time period January 2004 through December 2008 may have undiagnosed drogue loss, resulting in significantly greater windage than experienced by drogued drifters. While the GDP assesses these data for drogue presence reanalysis, we recommend that users interested in exclusively drogue-on data use only the first 90 days of data for drifters deployed during this time period. [PDF]

October 2010:

All of us in the Global Drifter Program are extremely saddened at the passing of Dr. Peter Niiler of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Peter championed the need for a global array of drifters, and through decades of intense effort he saw this dream fulfilled. Peter was an exceptional scientist and an artist who fully enjoyed a rich life, and his intelligence and wit will be greatly missed.

June 2010:

The GDP has arranged for 36 drifters to be deployed in the Gulf of Mexico. The data from these drifters is being transmitted on the Global Telecommunication System for real-time distribution, and are available in ASCII format via ftp. These drifters are being deployed in pairs, so that their relative spreading rates can be quantified. The subsequent trajectories of these drifters will map the ocean features in the Gulf, like the warm ring and the Loop Current, and help understand and forecast where these features will carry the oil.

On June 7-9, 6 drifter pairs were deployed from the R/V Walton Smith (chief scientist Michelle Wood) between the Deepwater Horizon site and the Dry Tortugas. The final two pairs were deployed close together in a convergence region where personnel aboard the Walton Smith observed oil being carried southward in a frontal jet.

In July, 12 drifter pairs are being deployed from the R/V Nancy Foster (chief scientist Ryan Smith). These deployments will be concentrated in the Loop Current and the large eddies north and northwest of the current.

For more deployment information visit our Deployment Log page. Scientists from NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratories (AOML), University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) and the University of South Florida (USF) on board the vessel will also carry out other activities that will contribute to the monitor and research efforts in the area. Stars show beginning locations, circles the current location and shading indicates sea surface temperature measured by the drifters (degrees C, color scale at bottom). The most recent 15 days of each drifter's trajectory is shown.

January 2010:

Movies illustrating the Evolution of the Global Drifter Array in five year intervals, since 1979 are available here

June 2009:

Surface drifter data was used to help locate wreckage from Air France flight #447.

Shortly after the disappearance of Air France flight 447 on May 31, 2009 and the discovery of debris on June 2, the Drifter Data Assembly Center, in Miami, Florida, was contacted by the Hydrographic Center of the Brazilian Navy and French researchers from IFREMER, for in situ, near real time data from surface drifters in the area where the plane disappeared while crossing the Atlantic ocean in route from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Paris, France. Surface drifter trajectories are useful to estimate how far currents carried the floating debris from the crash site, where heavier equipment such as the "black box" recorders sank. Several drifters were indentified in the area, and to further populate the area, and obtain higher resolution current measurements,to help the search teams locate additional debris and bodies, the Hydrographic Center of the Brazilian Navy deployed five more drifters near the area of the crash on June 14. This active collaboration with the Brazilian Navy and IFREMER follows a long history of cooperation between AOML and international partners.

These drifter data are available in real time along with currents derived from altimetry sea height anomaly fields at:

September 2008:

On September 11, 2008, an array of 9 drifters (5 minimets and 4 ADOS) was deployed in front of hurricane Ike before it landed in Houston. All drifters survived deployment and successfully transmitted their data on the Global Telecommunications System (GTS). Blue dots and black track lines show trajectories of drifters deployed in front of Gustav on August 31, 2008. Data available at: (select "hurricane buoys" for "data set")

August 2008:

On August 31, 2008, an array of 12 drifters (6 minimets and 6 ADOS) was deployed in front of hurricane Gustav before it landed in Louisiana. All drifters survived deployment and successfully transmitted their data on the Global Telecommunications System (GTS). Data available at: (select "hurricane buoys" for "data set")

June 2008:

In conjunction with the US Navy and NOAA, the United States Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) DALLAS is performing various training sessions with West African countries as follow-up to the African Partnership Station (APS), which took place in the Gulf of Guinea in early 2008. As was performed by the HSV-2 SWIFT, the USCGC DALLAS is also deploying drifting buoys in the region as part of climate research and forecasting. In total, the USCGC DALLAS will deploy 10 SVP type drifters, which will help build upon the existing data set in the region.

(Click on the figure to see a larger map).

March 25, 2008:

Two new columns have been added to the"Details of All Drifters in the DAC database" (dirall.html) file, to show the ending latitude and ending longitude of each drifter in the database.

January 2008:

The US Navy is presently undergoing a two-ship six month training capacity building exercise in the Gulf of Guinea. AOML, as part of this effort, is providing drifting buoys, training materials and a trainer for this component of the Navy effort. This figure shows tracks of drifters deployed by the HSV 2 Swift. On each track, the star denotes deployment position, the circle shows last transmission position (no circle means, buoy is more than 3 days behind), and the color shows sea surface temperatures in degrees C. (Click on the figure to see a larger map).
During March 11-14, Mr. Shaun Dolk from the Driter Operations Center will be in Ghana to provide drifter, float and XBT training to regional researchers.

August 2007:

On August 19, 2007, an array of 12 hurricane drifters (4 minimets and 8 ADOS) was deployed in the path of category 4 hurricane Dean approaching the Yucatan Peninsula, from a C-130J "Hurricane Hunter" plane. All drifters survived deployment and successfully transmitted their data on the Global Telecomunication System (GTS). Data available at: select "hurricane buoys" for "data set".

February 2007:

Drifter 36256 (Drifter # 1250 that completed the first component of the Global Observing System deployed on Sep 18, 2005, was successfully recovered on Feb 21, 2007, at Brest, France, after a 521 days journey through the Atlantic ocean. Both SST and Barometric pressure sensors were reporting good data until its recovery.

Rick Lumpkin is participating in a CLIMODE cruise, aboard the R/V Knorr (US Navy-owned ship operated by WHOI for ocean research community), deploying 30 drifters (from a total of 60 to de deployed) in the North Atlantic. Three of these drifters are part of the Adopt-a-Drifter Program (ADP), established by NOAA/OCO for teachers K-12 from US and foreign countries to provide them with tools to integrate ocean observing system data into their curriculums.

Limnology and Oceanography is hosting a Special Issue on scientific results obtained from autonomous and Lagrangian platforms and sensors (ALPS). All publication costs for this Special Issue will be covered, including Free Access Publication (the entire issue will be freely available online to maximize dissemination). We anticipate publication of 20-25 papers in this Special Issue.

Papers are invited from all disciplines in aquatic sciences. Interdisciplinary studies enabled by ALPS and numerical modeling studies using ALPS are also welcome.

For more details, include abstract and submission deadlines, see:

October 16-20, 2006:

Mayra Pazos and Rick Lumpkin (NOAA/AOML) attended the twenty-second Data Buoy Cooperation Panel (DBCP) DBCP meeting in La Jolla, California. Mayra presented the results of the 2006 drifter performance ("ADB") study, while Rick presented the 2006 Global Drifter Program report and a scientific talk about drifter observations in the path of Category 5 hurricane Rita. A presentation prepared by Jessica Redman on the results of the re-evaluation of the drogue status was also presented by Bill Scuba (SIO) at the meeting.

May 1, 2006:

The Drifter Data Assembly Center recently underwent a reevaluation of all drogue status on drifters deployed since 1998. Due to this, there has been a change in the drogue off date of several drifters. This either lengthened or shortened the life of the drogue depending on the new date chosen. The current database updated through January 2006 has the correct drogue dates.

For more information, contact Jessica Redman or Mayra Pazos

October 17-21, 2005:

Craig Engler and Mayra Pazos (NOAA/AOML) attended the twenty-first session of the Data Bouy Cooperation Panel DBCP jointly hosted by the National Meteorological Services and Naval Hydrographical Services in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 17-21 October, 2005. They gave a presentation on a comparison study of eight clusters of drifters, each from a different manufacturer, deployed at the same time and location in the Atlantic ocean. Download presentation (pdf).

September 25, 2005:

Archbishop and Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu and Captain Jeremy Kingston of the VOS ship MV Explorer deploy a drifter off the coast of South Africa. Archbiship Tutu was participating in the Semester At Sea program aboard the Explorer, which serves as a floating university campus. Every semester more than 600 students sail aboard the Explorer for a learning experience that circumnavigates the globe. Two classes, one from the Congressional School of Virginia and the other from Elsies River High School in South Africa, adopted the drifter and will be tracking its passage through the South Atlantic.

September 18, 2005:

Deployment of drifter number 1250 of the Global Drifter Array, the first fully realized component of the Global Ocean Observing System.

NOAA/Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory's Global Drifter Program