Coming soon to a beach near you: a “drift card” washing up on Gulf of Mexico shores that is part of a research project at Texas A&M University to study ocean currents.
The brightly colored yellow cards have contact information requesting that finders report where they were found as one way of tracking currents in the Gulf, says Piers Chapman, head of oceanography at Texas A&M. The project is conducted with funding from oil giant BP as part of its Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.
“It’s a fun way to track currents and to get people involved,” explains Chapman, who has done similar drift card projects before.
“The cards have contact information on them, asking the finder to call a number or email where he or she found the card, and there will be a monthly drawing for gift cards to encourage finders to respond. We released the first batch of 250 cards on April 6-8 and we’ve already had about 40 responses. In all, we will release about 5,000 in the next few months.”
The cards will enable oceanographers to improve prediction models and see how gas and oil travel along the currents of the Gulf.
So far, cards have been retrieved from Alabama to Panama City, Fla., Chapman says.
“The next several batches will be released farther west, so that’s when they will eventually wash up on Texas beaches,” he notes of the cards, written in English and Spanish because some of them will likely be found along the Mexican coast.
Chapman said he was involved in a similar project years ago while working in South Africa.
“We released drift cards like these and we got them returned from people in Brazil, Australia and along the east coast of Africa,” he recalls.
“In a project like this, the typical response rate in the open ocean is about 2 percent, but we are hoping to get a higher return rate in the Gulf of Mexico. However many are returned, we shall get some useful information that will improve our knowledge of Gulf currents.”