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Observations from drifting buoys

Drifting buoy at sea

Drifting buoys

We use data from the global array of around 1,250 drifting buoys for both forecasting and climate studies. Drifting buoys, along with Voluntary Observing Ships, provide the primary source of air pressure data over the oceans that are needed to run our global and regional weather forecasting models. They also provide a key source of sea temperature data and are important for climate data sets of sea-surface temperature.

What are drifting buoys?

Drifting buoys are free drifting platforms fitted with sensors to make meteorological and oceanographic measurements — they provide a cost-effective way for making meteorological measurements from the data-sparse areas of the ocean. The buoys are disposable and can be deployed at sea by regular ship crews.

Drifting buoys normally measure sea temperature and air pressure, and by tracking their positions the surface currents can be determined. Some drifters also have sensors to measure wind and salinity. The buoys are battery powered and typically last for one to two years. Measurements are normally made hourly and the data are transmitted to satellite. Most drifters use the Argos satellite system for data transmission and positioning, although new systems such as Iridium are currently being evaluated.

Who is responsible for drifting buoys?

Internationally, drifting buoy activities are co-ordinated through the WMO/IOC Data Buoy Cooperation Panel (DBCP).

North Atlantic drifting buoy activities are co-ordinated through the EUCOS Surface Marine programme (E-Surfmar).

Met Office deployments

Over recent years the Met Office has deployed around 20 to 30 drifting buoys each year in the North Atlantic, and we continue to deploy drifters purchased through the E-Surfmar programme. We also purchase and deploy around five drifters a year in the South Atlantic/Southern Ocean, as a contribution to the global drifter array which is a part of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) and the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS).

As part of its role as a real-time monitoring centre for marine data the Met Office routinely monitors drifting buoy data.

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