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  • Tommy Furlong

Student Forum

Newburyport Drifters

The Gulf of Maine (ranging from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia) is warming faster than any other body of water in the world.

Here in Newburyport, a group of concerned students and scientists are working to reverse the global environmental catastrophes. For the last ten years the Gulf of Maine Institute (GOMI) has taken the lead in addressing invasive species, composting, water quality, sea level rise, and most recently an ocean drifter’s project. Sea level rise directly impacts Newburyport citizens who must understand that with only a seven meter rise their entire boardwalk would be under the ocean.

Drifters are a joint project of National Oceanic Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and GOMI. GOMI students have taken charge of the project in using applied engineering to build drifters and track ocean currents, temperature, and eventually salinity.

A drifter has four long sails (about 4 feet tall), two buoys near the top of a center shaft holding it all together, and a transmitter connected up top. The drifters are taken out to the Gulf by boat and once launched they float upright with about ninety percent of the body floating underwater.

So what is the environmental purpose? By floating underwater, the drifter is capable of picking up water currents and remaining unaffected by the wind. This allows them to follow the currents and in turn gives us the ability to track lobster larvae, red tides, and cold shocked turtles.

The Cape Cod GOMI team focused in on the location of cold shocked turtles. They launched a set of drifters and tracked where the popular currents dragged them. Using this data, they were able to form a predicted destination for the paralyzed turtles.

We live on a planet whose surface is made of seventy-one percent water. We live in a city where we are a five-minute drive away from the ocean. And we live a region with a body of water that has one of the worst temperature change rates in the world. By engineering the drifters and tracking the data, we gain a sense of accomplishment and purpose. We are given an insight into our connection with the ocean, not just regionally but globally. We get to understand that we are making a true difference.

Trying to extend our reaches GOMI has partnered with both the Newburyport Nock Middle School and River Valley Charter School. Together the partnership has resulted in the building and launching of even more drifters.

So if you have an interest in the betterment of the environment or you have an interest in the improvement of your hometown GOMI and the oceanic drifter's project is a program, you should support and learn more about. GOMI projects have influenced much of the Gulf of Maine. However, the drifter project has given GOMI a renewed sense of accomplishment while we have hopped onto a booming industry with growing importance.

The project allows students in communities all across the Gulf of Maine to experience science, to partner with NOAA scientists and become the environmental stewards needed to build a healthy environment for our future.


Tommy Furlong is a long-term member of the Newburyport GOMI team and a recent graduate of Newburyport High School, MA. Tommy will be attending American University, Washington DC this fall where he will be preparing for a career in journalism.

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