NOAA's latest partner is not your typical research vessel or cargo ship: it's the six yachts currently competing in the around the world Volvo Ocean Race. As one of the world's major global sailing events, accurate predictions of ocean currents and marine weather are critical to ensuring the safety of crew members during the eight-month long, 38,000+ nautical mile voyage from Alicante, Spain to Gothenburg, Sweden. The fifth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race from Auckland, New Zealand to Itajaí, Brazil by way of the Southern Ocean began on March 17th.
During the 6,775 nautical mile journey through the Southern Ocean, the longest and most challenging leg of the race, all six teams deployed a drifter in support of NOAA's ocean observation efforts. The Southern Ocean isn't regularly visited by oceanographers due to its remoteness, but is nevertheless an important region to observe. “The Southern Ocean is poorly sampled compared to other ocean basins because it's so remote from most shipping lanes where observations are collected,” said Rick Lumpkin, director of the Global Drifter Program at AOML. “However, it plays a critical role in global ocean circu - lation and climate. It links the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, so it's extremely important to observe currents and temperatures there.” Researchers with NOAA's Global Drifter Program at AOML continuously seek opportunities to deploy drifters in remote regions where ocean-observing platforms are needed. The unique partner - ship with the Volvo Ocean Race was negotiated by Martin Kramp, a ship coordinator for the Joint Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology of the World Meteorological Organization and Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO. “Organized ocean sailing events, such as races and rallies, are a new type of volunteer ocean observation,” explained Kramp. “We have shown the feasibility and efficiency of such partnerships in the last months and are very happy the Volvo Ocean Race is collaborating with us as a part of the current race.” Each of the six race teams deployed their drifter at the same predetermined coordinates. As soon as the drifters entered the water, they began drifting with the surface currents and transmitting their data through a global network of satellites. “The oceans are our race tracks, and we are delighted we can help build knowledge about them in this way,” said Knut Frostad, chief executive officer of the Volvo Ocean Race. “I look forward to following the data from the drifters that our fleet dropped as they raced through the Southern Ocean, passing some of the most remote locations on the planet