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It might not look like much, but it is an elegantly conceived, beautifully engineered piece of real scientific instrumentation capable of sending surface currents data via satellite to scientists the world over.

Affectionately known as SpongeBobs, the idea of mass deploying surface drifters has been the brainchild of a succession of scientists at the Institute of Ocean Science in Sidney BC for years. The current incarnation is portable, robust, relatively inexpensive and, best of all, easy enough to assemble in the field that even ham-handed sailors like me can get it done using not much more than a hammer. Everyone has to love a scientific instrument you assemble yourself with a hammer.

I have five onboard Seaburban. Actually, make that four as the first was assembled and set adrift today at 1619 local (UTC+1) near 41 02S 20 20E. As everything on a boat has to have a name, these I have decided to name after my father’s life-long friend, fellow merchant marine deck officer, land surveyor, and physical oceanographer, the late Alard Ages. Alard worked many years at the Institute and was well known as a bit of a character. Alard 1’s new home is now the Indian Ocean. Alards 2 through 4 will go over the side beneath the remaining capes with Alard 5 destined for the Great Southern Ocean. That or the Great Garbage Patch. Alard’s, if he were here, would not be able to resist a vote for the latter. The data this type of instrumentation sends to back to the scientific community is a vital part of atmospheric and oceanic modelling. One of the direct benefits for you and I is better and more accurate weather and current forecasts.

You can follow Alard 1’s track in real time at this link:

One of my primary goals for this trip is to inspire some of our brightest and best young minds to seek out careers in the Atmospheric and Oceanic sciences. I hope that seeing the tracks of these drifters as they meander over the oceans will spark some young scientist to figure out exactly what it all means.

To this end, schools across Canada and the US are following my journey and collecting local weather data to compare with my own in real time over a satellite link.

I have three other science projects aboard. They wait for my return to the Pacific and I am equally as excited for these as I am about Alards 1-5.

In general, I believe that anyone, anywhere can make a valuable contribution in just about any field they are interested in. Science is fueled by passionate minds and data. There can never be enough of either. Most times for you and I, its as simple as hitting something with a hammer and throwing it over the side.

Follow my tracks in real-time: