The Drift Bottle Project

The Drift Bottle Project

Ever since the first Students on Ice Arctic expedition in 2001, students have been participating in ocean research in a variety of ways, but none as hands on as the annual bottle drop.

Glass bottles stuffed with GPS coordinates, contact information, and a personalized note, are sealed with wax and pitched off the back deck, where they drift with the ocean currents, sometimes turning up on distant shores, such as Ireland, the UK, Spain or Iceland.

This project was brought to Students on Ice through Eddy Carmack, a world-renowned oceanographer based at the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, British Columbia, who joined our first Arctic expedition and second Antarctic expedition in 2001.

These bottles are a powerful and inexpensive way to study ocean surface currents through citizen science. After collecting and plotting data for the retrieved bottles, analysis has further confirmed that the Gulf Stream moves debris towards Europe. This knowledge is quite interesting when considering the possibility of oil spills at current or proposed drilling platforms on Canada’s East Coast, or the Eastern Arctic, and where currents would take the oil. Data collected tells us a great deal about changes happening in Arctic Ocean currents and how currents are changing due to climate change.

Beyond improving scientific understanding of ocean surface currents, the bottle drop creates unparalleled human connection across borders.

“I’ve yet to meet anyone, from my 7-year old grandson to a constrained senior bureaucrat to the CEO of a major company who can forget tossing a bottle with a message into the sea,” says Eddy Carmack, “the wonderment of who will find it or when or where.”

 

Photo (c) Martin Lipman
Photo (c) Martin Lipman

One of the many unlikely connections that occurred was when nine year-old Sigmundur “Simmi” Sigurgeirsson and his family spotted a bottle near their campfire while vacationing in Iceland’s otherworldly Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

Five years later, in the summer of 2011, Students on Ice had plans to kick off the expedition in Iceland, sailing from the sub-Arctic island to parts of Greenland and ending in the Canadian Arctic.

Simmi and President of Iceland

Simmi and President of Iceland

That’s when Geoff Green remembered Simmi, and a few emails later, the now almost 14 year-old Icelander was slated to join the expedition. His family even helped organize a meet-and-greet with the president of Iceland for the expedition. “That was great and made me a little proud to show my country and be able to go with the whole group to meet the president of Iceland,” he says.

Then Simmi got the opportunity to drop a bottle near the same place the bottle he found was thrown from the ship during the 2005 expedition, coming full circle. (Article in Outpost Magazine)

It is estimated that between four and five per cent of bottles are eventually recovered, and over the past 14 years of the project, Simmi’s story is just one of a handful of incredible connections.

More recently Addison Asuchak, a Canadian student onboard the Arctic 2014 expedition, received an email during his travels in Europe over a year after he released his bottle into the waters of the Davis Strait. After reading this email he learned that his bottle had been found by a 16 year-old aspiring oceanographer in Spain, he quickly changed his plans and hitchhiked down to Spain from France to meet her.

It seemed like fate that Maria Larruzea of all people would find the bottle during a beach cleanup. In her small seaside village of Lekeitio, she was one of two people living there who can speak English and was able to read Addison’s message. “If anyone else had found it and read it, they probably would have just thrown it out,” says Addison.

This is just another example of how two people who would never otherwise meet can be connected by the simple act of throwing a note in a bottle into the sea.

Photo (c) Martin Lipman
Photo (c) Martin Lipman
Photo (c) Martin Lipman
Photo (c) Martin Lipman

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