Oceanographic Drifter Deployments in Alaskan Waters

Tom Weingartner, Seth Danielson, and Peter Winsor (all at the UAF-SFOS Institute of Marine Science, Fairbanks)

Alex Whiting (Native Village of Kotzebue; 2015 deployments)

Leandra de Sousa (North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management; 2011-2014 deployments)

Terry Reeve (SFOS Marine Advisory Program Agent, Bethel; 2008 & 2009 deployments)

Warren Jones (of the Quinhagak Village Council; 2008 & 2009 deployments)

Larson King (of Mekoryuk, Nunivak Island; 2002 deployments)

Steve Ignell (NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center Auke Bay Laboratory; 2001 deployments)

Satellite-tracked oceanographic drifters provide an informative (and nearly realtime) depiction of surface circulation that complements other measurements collected by shipboard sampling, instrumented moorings. and numerical models.

Our focus in this and previous drifter studies in the Bering Sea has been on the nearshore circulation.  Most cruises aboard large research vessels are limited to water depths greater than 20m (66 feet). Along Alaska's western shoreline, the vast area between the 20m isobath and land is largely devoid of sparse oceanographic measurements.  The drifter data allow us to better understand the ocean currents in these poorly sampled coastal regions.

Our research is supported by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), Shell Exploration, Arctic Yukon-Kuskokwim Sustainable Salmon Initiative (AYKSSI), the North Pacific Research Board (NPRB), the North Slope Borough and the Northwest Arctic Borough.

Our program depends on the assistance of local residents who carry out the drifter deployments.  In 2002, we partnered with Mr. Larson King of Nunivak Island in the deployment of 15 satellite tracked drifters.  Some of the results of that effort were published in a 2006 Journal of Geophysical Research article. The 2008 summer deployments were organized by Terry Reeve of Bethel and carried out by residents of Quinhagak, a village located on the eastern shore of Kuskokwim Bay. The Arctic deployments are organized in partnership with Leandra de Sousa of the North Slope Borough and Alex Whiting of the Native Village of Kotzebue.