Exploring the Ocean Surface with Data from the Global Drifter ProgramAccess Buoy Data from the Global Drifter Program
Buoy Data from the Global Drifter Program provide real-time and historical data for over 1000 global drifter buoys. Data monitored include buoy position and sea surface temperature (SST).
Use and Relevance
Scientists use buoys to track ocean currents and measure properties such as sea surface temperature, salinity, wind speed, and atmospheric pressure. Understanding ocean current patterns provides information that can be used to address diverse problems, such as predicting weather phenomena or tracking oil spills. Drifter data are also used by scientists at NOAA in numerical weather prediction models.
Use in Teaching
Map of buoy positions in the Global Drifter Program. Image generated by M. Pazos and R. Lumpkin.
This dataset can be used to teach the following topics and skills in atmospheric sciences and physical oceanography:
- Ocean surface currents
- Using buoy data to map ocean currents
- Understanding the methods used to measure ocean currents
- Examining major ocean currents, such as the Gulf Stream
- Understanding how ocean currents influence meteorological phenomena such as El Niño
- Applying knowledge of ocean currents to diverse applications, including transportation and monitoring oil spills
Exploring the Data
Data Type and Presentation
Historical and real-time data are available for over 1000 global drifter buoys. Data includes buoy location and measurements of SST. Raw data (in tabular format) and processed data (images and graphs) are provided.
Accessing the Data
Data can be accessed from the GDP through several databases:
- Interpolated Database
- GTS database
- Alitimeter and GTS Near Real-Time
Provides buoy position data in tabular format that can be accessed as HTML or via FTP. Data can be parsed by dates and geographic location.
Provides buoy data collected by the Global Telecommunication System (GTS). Data can be parsed by location and dates and can be downloaded in GIF, PDF, or ASCII formats.
Provides sea height anomaly data. Data can be downloaded in GIF or ASCII formats.
Manipulating Data and Creating Visualizations
One way that students can process data is to create graphs from raw data using a spreadsheet application such as Excel. Students can also generate images using the GDP databases, which allow for temporal and geographical refinement of data presentation.
Tools for Data Manipulation
Raw data can be downloaded and imported into a spreadsheet application such as Excel for further processing. The Starting Point site provides a tutorial for using Excel. Graphs and images can also be generated through search interfaces in the GDP databases.
About the Data
Buoy data are collected via the Argos satellite tracking system. Buoys can be equipped with instrumentation to measure SST, wind direction and velocity, salinity, and ocean color. The GDP provides detailed information on collection methods and quality control measures.
Limitations and Sources of Error
Buoy data quality can be impacted by physical factors that affect function of the buoy or transmission of the data. Data from the GDP buoys are assembled at the Drifter Data Assembly Center and assessed for quality assurance.
References and Resources
Scientific References that Use this Dataset
- The Drifter Data Assembly Center maintains a bibliography of scientific papers that use GDP data.
Other Related Scientific References
- Quality control and interpolations of WOCE-TOGA drifter data: An article from the Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology that discusses the collection of data from buoys and techniques for assessing data quality.
Other related Education Resources
- Tropical Atmosphere Ocean project: Access to data from buoys in the Tropical Pacific Ocean used for monitoring the El Niño Southern Oscillation
- NOAA's El Niño Theme Page contains background information and essays related to El Niño and links to a variety of data sources that are used to study El Niño.