Drift bottles have long been used as an inexpensive (and fun) way to study ocean surface currents. A very simple piece of scientific equipment, a drift bottle is an empty glass bottle with a watertight lid and a note inside it explaining how to make contact with the research project. Project participants, throw these bottles over the side of ocean-going ships, and note the 'drop' location of each bottle; when a bottle is found and reported to the project, location information is added to a database for analysis. To learn more about the science behind this research, please see The Study of Flow.
The IOS Drift Bottle Project began in 2000 as a contribution to the RCMP's St. Roch II Millennium Project, when bottles were dropped along the west coast of Canada, around Alaska, and through the Canadian Arctic. Over the past few years, the project has dropped additional bottles in the Arctic, as well as south along the west coast of North America from Victoria to the Panama Canal, and north from the Panama Canal to the Bahamas.
"It is incredible to think that a single bottle managed to accomplish in one try [traversing the Northwest Passage] what so many explorers were unable to do."
"I hope that someone gets my/ message in a bottle"
Message in a Bottle, by The Police
Almost everyone has heard the song Message in a Bottle, by The Police, but drift bottles are more than just musical inspiration. Over the centuries they have been used as a means of tracking ocean currents, sending messages requesting help or transmitting information, and as advertising.
The first recorded case of someone throwing a drift bottle (or at least a sealed cask) was the Greek philosopher Theophrastus, in the year 310BC. He was trying to show that the Mediterranean was created by waters from the Atlantic. Apparently he received no responses, but that did not discourage later attempts by others. In the 1950s, Guinness dropped more than 200,000 beer bottles with messages in them in the Atlantic Ocean.
"Not all those who wander are lost." - JRR Tolkien
The Drift Bottle Project is based out of the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, British Columbia, Canada. Eddy Carmack, who had read about some of the amazing journeys drift bottles had made, thought that with a little planning, drift bottles could be harnessed for scientific purposes. This study was motivated by the successes of Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer who has greatly advanced the science of ocean drifting objects. Julie Lobb and Peter van Hardenberg have both helped with collecting the data, and many volunteers have aided with putting individual messages into the bottles.
We would like to thank our bottle droppers for their assistance, including the crews of the RCMP vessel St Roch II, Canadian icebreakers (MV Simon Fraser, CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and CCGS Louis St. Laurent), the crew aboard the Sedna IV, and Students On Ice (on board the Akademik Ioffe).
Finally, thank you to everyone who has reported a find.