Magazine article Geographical

Is It True That Rubber Ducks Have Been Used to Study Ocean Currents?

Magazine article Geographical

Is It True That Rubber Ducks Have Been Used to Study Ocean Currents?

Article excerpt

It isn't just rubber ducks. Hockey gloves, training shoes and dolls' heads have all contributed to a model of ocean currents built by oceanographers Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Jim Ingraham. By looking at where these objects wash up on coasts around the world, the two scientists have been able to fine tune a computer model of how surface currents work.

The rubber ducks achieved fame last year when it became apparent that some bath toys that had been swept off a ship in the Pacific Ocean more than ten years earlier would cross the Arctic Ocean and start washing ashore in Canada and northeastern USA. Over the next 20 years, one or two might even make it to South Africa.

The advantage of dealing with wayward container cargo is that its origin can be traced easily, at least in principle. However, difficulties arise because the owners of the cargo often aren't terribly co-operative. "Most of the time I'm stonewalled," says Ebbesmeyer. "Their lawyers tell them not to talk to me. In just one out of 100 cases I can figure out the source.

"I've had Rugrats dolls' heads wash up, but the manufacturers denied it. Mattel told me they hadn't lost any merchandise."

Every once in a while, the necessary information comes through. …

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