Monday, July 02, 2007

Ocean currents tracked with rubber duckies

This is so fabulous that I had to borrow it from Daily Mail, which I stumbled upon through Tommaso Dorigo's A Quantum Diaries Survivor.

Curtis Ebbesmeyer with whimsical world travelers.

Sometimes science starts with an accident. In this case, 29,000 plastic bath toys -- yellow ducks, blue turtles, green frogs, and red beavers -- were tossed into the Pacific by a January storm back in '92. The waterlogged cardboard packaging fell apart, setting the plastic critters free. A retired oceanographer by the name of Curtis Ebbesmeyer has tracked their journeys from the eastern Pacific Ocean.

An estimated 19,000 of the toys headed south, landing in Australia, Indonesia, and South America. The other 10,000 turned northward, getting trapped in the ice of the Bering Straits and traveling eastward at the crawling pace of a mile a day. The first of these intrepid duckies was found thawed on the eastern side of the US in 2003. Now, after four years traveling down the North American coast and turning back northward, they are due to wash up on the western coast of Britain. How cool is that?

Photo credit: Jim Ingraham, taken from the Daily Mail

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