Drifting buoys

The drifting buoys measure sea surface temperature, and sometimes surface air pressure, sea surface salinity, air temperature and/or near-surface wind, all the while reporting their position. Time-series of positions (trajectories) enable a posteriori estimation of near-surface ocean currents. The array of drifting buoys is a component of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission’s Global Ocean Observing System. The various drifter types include:

  • the Surface Velocity Program (SVP) buoy (in two sizes: 35 cm and 40 cm), which carries a subsurface drogue centered or tethered at 15 m depth,
  • ice-drift and ice mass balance buoys, which are typically deployed on sea ice
  • deep-drogued drifters (~100 m)
  • X-shaped (with sails), small sized drifters known as CODE/Davis
  • Others.

There are several international programs that deploy drifting buoys. The largest program is the Global Drifter Program (GDP), which deploys only SVP drifters.

Global Telecommunication System (GTS)

Global Telecommunication System (GTS)

The most comprehensive source for drifting buoy data is the GTS of the World Meteorological Organization.

From 1978 to 1993, the GTS data were encoded in FM-14 DRIBU Traditional Alphanumeric Code (TAC) form. In 1993, some buoys started transmitting their data in FM-18 BUOY TAC form, which became the official form after an overlapping period with DRIBU, and until the end of 2016. Starting in 2003, messages in the BUOY code were progressively duplicated with messages in the Binary Universal Form for the Representation (FM-94 BUFR) of WMO. As of August 2016, the BUOY code form was still the official form for drifting buoy data on the GTS, but due to routing circuit configurations, transfer failures at encoding centers and the allocation of 7-digit WMO numbers to some new drifters, some buoys started transmitting only in BUFR from 2015 onward. The scheduled date for ending buoy messages in TAC form is November 2016; only BUFR messages may be found after this date.

The GTS data in DRIBU and BUOY code forms assembled by DFO from 1985 to 1989, 1992 and from 1998 to 2015 were packaged in monthly global files and submitted to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) Ocean Data Archive and are now accessible from the NOAA Data Catalog. Data from remaining years (1978-1984, 1990-1991, 1993-1997) will be made available at a later date and can be requested from DFO in the meanwhile.

Past BUFR files are currently being mined and compared with the FM-18 BUOY data to extract data transmitted in BUFR only and submit them as addenda to the NCEI Ocean Archive.

Data Access

Data files from the TAC code forms can be downloaded as monthly CSV files. For years that are missing in the menu below, or for customized requests, please fill the Data Request Form.

Kiel Deep Drifters

Kiel Deep Drifters

Data from drifters with deep drogues collected by the Institut für Meereskunde, then at the University of Kiel (Germany), from 1980 to 1996. The data are mostly from the Atlantic Ocean, but some extend into the Arctic Ocean and also into the Indian Ocean in later years. The earliest records are from 1980 and the most recent are from 1996. The data are interpolated to positions every 3 hours. These are drifters with deep drogues. Some of the records have sea surface temperatures and computed velocities. More information about these drifters can be found in Krauss, W. On the slippage of deep-drogued drifters. J. Geophys. Res., 101 (1996), pp. 1309–1319, doi:10.1029/95JC02686.

Data Access

Data from drifters with deep drogues collected by the Institut für Meereskunde, at the University of Kiel from 1980 to 1996.

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