Research

GPS Trackers Helping Researchers Follow Path of Objects in Ocean

A $50 GPS-enabled theft tracker is being used once again in a device that will monitor the transport of oil from its source to the beach when a sea spill occurs, such as the 2010 BP oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. The experiment is an on-going project at CARTHE, the Consortium for Advanced Research on Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment.

The CARTHE team comprises more than 40 researchers, postdocs, students and administrative staff from 14 universities and research institutions. The theft tracker from Globalstar will be used by Florida's University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, which is part of the consortium. U Miami Professor Tamay Özgökmen is the director of CARTHE.

The project will install Globalstar's SPOT Trace satellite trackers inside buoyant devices that are set afloat in the water. Every five minutes the tracker transmits its location to a satellite and back to the research center. The initial experiment began in 2012. During that phase 317 "drifting instruments" collected 5.5 million data points over six months to help researchers understand how things move on the surface of the ocean.

The devices are typically attached to assets that might be stolen; when an asset is moved, its location can be traced on Google maps on a phone or computer.

Now the project is being continued. "SPOT is at the very heart of our upcoming expedition in the northern Gulf of Mexico, just like in our 2012 study," said Özgökmen in a press release. "Almost every aspect of the experiment is tailored around these devices. Such massive simultaneous information has never been obtained before, and we expect that SPOT will provide unprecedented scientific information about ocean currents so we know what to anticipate in the event of future oil spills."

Added Roni Avissar, a professor and dean in the school of marine and atmospheric science, "Our scientists have spent years perfecting the drifters and planning the execution of their release, and now we need the SPOT GPS units to do the work."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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