DAKAR, Senegal — An Africa Partnership Station (APS) initiative to support the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) oceans and climate research and data collection efforts kicked off Jan. 18-21 when the crew of HSV 2 Swift deployed five surface drifting buoys at sea during a transit from Rota, Spain to Dakar, Senegal.
Drifter buoys move with ocean currents and collect data such as sea surface temperature. Data is transmitted via satellite and distributed to meteorological services and made available to researchers worldwide. The Global Drifter Program is managed by NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML), which worked closely with Swift to provide training prior to the ship's deployment Jan. 4 to join APS.
"After learning how vital the drifter data is in Africa and around the world, it's a good feeling to help," said Navy Mineman 2nd Class Matthew Rishovd, a Swift Blue Crew member who visited AOML's Miami facility in December for training. Rishovd is now training other crew members and overseeing the four-month project.
Drifters consist of a surface float and a 15-meter drogue, or sea anchor, attached by a thin tether. The first large-scale deployments of modern drifters took place in 1988, in the Pacific, according to information available on the AOML Web site. The effort was extended worldwide and made it to the tropical and South Atlantic Ocean by 2004. Drifters can last and transmit data for years.
In addition to improving short term weather forecasts in the region, data collected from drifters can assist with longer term forecasts of droughts and floods, according to Rick Lumpkin, an AOML research scientist.
Swift is carrying a total of 70 drifting buoys and 10 Argo floats, which also collect and transmit data such as temperature and salinity. Swift crew will deploy the drifters and floats at AOML-provided positions as the ship transits to various APS ports in West and Central Africa. Dedicated time has also been built into the APS schedule for Swift to support AOML in specific areas of the Gulf of Guinea where little data is routinely available.
The first five APS buoys were deployed when Swift crossed latitudes 33, 25, 22, 19 and 17 degrees north while transiting to Dakar.
"I volunteered because it seemed interesting and sounded like it could be fun," Rishovd said. After having overseen the first buoy deployments during APS and based on what he learned during his visit with AOML in Miami, Rishovd acknowledges the fun factor while recognizing the significance of what he's doing. "The data is important and affects people," he said.
During an upcoming APS visit to Ghana, Swift will host a four-day AOML-led training seminar for regional researches in buoy deployment and data usage that includes time at sea for practical demonstrations.
The ultimate goal is to generate regional partners in various African countries who can continue to deploy drifters as gaps develop, Lumpkin noted.
"The upwelling regions off Africa's west coast, particularly off Senegal and in the Gulf of Guinea (eastern sides of the North and South Tropical Atlantic) are persistently under sampled," Lumpkin said. "We are encouraged by any efforts to help generate partnerships in this region, and excited to reopen collaboration with the U.S. Navy."
During APS, Swift is supporting several APS initiatives in partnership with NOAA. These include serving as a training venue for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NFMS) and its fisheries observer course for Ghana's Fisheries Ministry, as well as conducting maintenance on moored ocean buoys in the Gulf of Guinea on behalf of the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL).