On Monday May 18, 2015, researchers from Georgia Southern University and Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary plan to release 50 gallons of a non-toxic red dye (rhodamine WT) into the Altamaha River.
The resulting plume of dye will be monitored visually and with instrumentation as the dye flows from the release point along the Georgia coast and offshore. Tracking the path of the dye will provide estimates of the extent to which the Altamaha River outflow delivers dissolved contaminants, nutrients and freshwater along the Georgia coast and to hard-bottom reefs such as Gray’s Reef, found approximately 20 miles offshore.
Ocean circulation patterns contribute to the heat transport from the tropics to the poles, helping to equalize Earth’s surface temperatures. Surface currents have a great effect on weather patterns around the globe. In addition to important meteorological effects, ocean currents also play an important role in the global transfer of organisms, nutrients, potential pollutants and sediments. At the same time, they also affect the routes taken by ships as they carry goods and people across the seas.
Using devices known as drifters, scientists are beginning to grasp the complexities of global ocean currents, and, in turn, the many systems that they influence. With advances in technology, drifters now provide researchers with information about ocean circulation patterns in real time. The data garnered from these devices will allow scientists to design models of climate and weather patterns, such as El Niño and hurricanes, as well as predict where pollutants, such as oil or sewage, will go if they are dumped or accidentally spilled into the ocean. Information from drifters can also be used to learn more about the distribution and abundance of marine life with early life stages that are planktonic. Plankton are freely floating organisms that travel with oceanic currents.