Adopt a Drifter

NOAA’s Ocean Climate Observation (OCO) Program established the Adopt a Drifter Program in December 2004 for K-16 teachers and students from the United States and abroad. The Program’s mission is to establish scientific partnerships between schools around the world to engage students in activities and communication about ocean climate science. Teachers have the opportunity to include near-real-time ocean observing system data in their curriculum. 

Screen shot of the Adopt a Drifter website, at

To participate in the program, NOAA invites a school, aquarium, museum, or other educational institution from the U.S. to partner with a school or educational institution abroad to mutually adopt a drifting buoy that will be launched from a ship at sea. A teacher from each school may be on board the ship during the launch, although this is not a prerequisite for participation. NOAA stickers signed by participating students, or stickers with school mascots are adhered to the drifter before the launch and photos are taken to document the activity. Teachers receive a five-digit identification number for the buoy from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) so they can access and track the drifter’s data online. Participating teachers develop lesson plans and activities for their students to help them use and interpret the drifting buoy data. Students can plot the coordinates of the drifter as it moves in the surface ocean currents. This enables teachers and students to make connections between data accessed on line and maps showing currents, winds, and other ocean information.

What is a "Drifter"?

A drifting buoy (drifter) is a floating ocean buoy equipped with meteorological and/or oceanographic sensing instruments. The data collected by these instruments are sent via satellite to NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) where they are made available for educational and scientific use. AOML is responsible for maintaining a global array of 1250 drifting buoys. 

This global map shows the locations of all drifting buoys on December 3, 2012.

Drifter data are used to track major ocean currents, ground-truth data from satellites, build models of climate and weather patterns, predict the movement of pollutants that spill into the sea, determine marine species migration patterns, and assist with the forecast path of approaching hurricanes. Participating ADP schools and students have full access to hourly drifting buoy data (e.g., latitude/longitude coordinates and accompanying sea surface temperature (SST)) in real or near real-time for their adopted drifting buoy as well as all drifting buoys in the global ocean observing system.

Goals of the Adopt a Drifter Program

Provide near real-time scientific data for students; 

Engage students and partners to ensure they have access to world class data sets;

Support workforce and future scientists through interest in scientific data; and 

Establish effective partnerships and projects that accelerate understanding of weather, water, and climate linkages

You Too Can Adopt a Drifter!

Teachers wanting to participate in the NOAA Adopt a Drifter Program should submit an application at  Be sure to include a list of ideas about how you plan to incorporate drifting buoy data (e.g., sea surface temperature) and processes (e.g., wind and ocean currents) into your lessons. 

For more information, please visit the Adopt a Drifter website; or contact contact the ADP Coordinator, Emily Smith, at


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