Clipper Race deploys drifter buoys in world’s oceans for key meteorological research

27 February 2024

The fourth stage of the Clipper 2023-24 Race, the Australian Coast-to-Coast Leg, supported scientific research through the deployment of drifter buoys from its ocean racing yachts. This built on a similar project from the previous edition, with the aim to provide further widespread data analysis of the ocean, as Clipper Race routing goes through less travelled waters and beyond traditional shipping routes.

Eight drifter buoys were provided by Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) who gave pre-determined longitudes for the buoys to be activated. Four were deployed on Race 5 in the Indian Ocean between Fremantle and Newcastle from on board Qingdao, UNICEF, PSP Logistics and Washington, DC. And a further four were dropped in the Pacific Ocean between Airlie Beach and Ha Long Bay on Race 7 from Our Isles and Oceans, Perseverance, Zhuhai and Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam.

Image: Ziqi Wang, round the world Ambassador Crew on Qingdao about to deploy a drifter buoy.

Mike Miller, Skipper of PSP Logistics said on Race 5: “We had the opportunity to drop a drifter buoy from our yacht into the ocean as we sailed through the Roaring Forties. We used a specific set of coordinates that was given to us by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. The team there uses a number of specially selected yachts, four of which were Clipper 70s, which have been dropping them at varying intervals on our route to Newcastle, Australia.”

The buoys house sensors and GPS to allow the recording and transmission of weather variables. The data collected by each unit includes barometric pressure, sea surface temperature and ocean current drift, and the buoys will transmit and provide data for up to three years. The data is provided to the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) which is an Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission led programme and part of UNESCO. It is then used by weather agencies across the world, better informing their models and therefore making forecasts more accurate. Once the buoys have completed their data collection, they will be retrieved.

Dan Bodey, Skipper of UNICEF, who was tasked with dropping one buoys and received training for such when the team was in Fremantle, said: “What the buoys do is it allows BOM to measure the ocean current, ocean temperature, and air pressure to help with forecasting and other scientific research. Each buoy contains the specific instrument required to track the data along with a satellite receiver to send the data back every hour. The buoy has a seven-metre drogue to enable it to travel with the ocean currents rather than the surface winds and to show where it travels through the ocean. Each will be in the water and sending data for approximately three years.”

Image: Laura Hampton and Dan Bodey on UNICEF deploying the buoy

During Leg 4, teams were also involved in capturing data for the Voluntary Observing Ship Scheme (VOS). Selected teams were tasked to report observations of barometer readings, visibility, cloud formations and sea states. According to VOS: “The contribution which VOS meteorological reports make to operational meteorology, to marine meteorological services and to global climate studies is unique and irreplaceable. During the past few decades, the increasing recognition of the role of the oceans in the global climate system has placed even greater emphasis on the importance of marine meteorological and oceanographical observing systems.” By supporting projects such as VOS, the Clipper Race, by its truly global nature, can help make provide valuable data as it races around the world.

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