Home Archived February 20, 2019

Link to USGS home page
Sound Waves Monthly Newsletter - Coastal Science and Research News from Across the USGS
Home || Sections: Spotlight on Sandy | Fieldwork | Research | Outreach | Meetings | Awards | Staff & Center News | Publications || Archives



Message in a Saucer—USGS Drifter Lands on Vancouver Island, Canada, 40 Years After Release

in this issue:
 previous story | next story

Like a message in a bottle, a yellow disk recently washed up on the shores of Long Beach in Vancouver Island's Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, leading Parks Canada staff to uncover a decades-old story that began near San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.

This fall, a visitor found a yellow plastic saucer-shaped disk on Long Beach and left it against a recycling bin. When Parks Canada janitor Jackie Aubertin found it, she was curious about the disk and took it back to the office to clean it up. As she scrubbed, a message was slowly revealed:


Jackie brought the strange find to ecosystem scientist John McIntosh, who followed the instructions on the disk and sent it back to Menlo Park, California, offering to forego the 50-cent reward in the interest of science. While we waited for a reply, the mystery of the yellow disk became a bit of a joke among the staff. Jackie was even presented with a thank-you letter, allegedly from U.S. President Obama, with two American quarters attached.

Disk found by Parks Canada janitor Jackie Aubertin Jackie Aubertin,  John McIntosh
Above left: Disk found by Parks Canada janitor Jackie Aubertin beside a recycling bin on Vancouver Island. When originally deployed near San Francisco, California, it had a red plastic stem with a brass weight near the end. A similar drifter, complete with stem and weight, was recovered in 2007 in San Pablo Bay, California, much closer to its original starting point (http://soundwaves.usgs.gov/2007/06/outreach.html). [larger version]

Above right:
Parks Canada janitor Jackie Aubertin (left) holds a thank-you letter from the USGS, and ecosystem scientist John McIntosh holds a 1970 report (USGS Circular 637-A, B) about the San Francisco Bay water-circulation study that launched the yellow drifters. (Another report was published in 1971: "Drift of Surface and Near-Bottom Waters of the San Francisco Bay System: March 1970 through April 1971," USGS Miscellaneous Field Studies Map MF-333.) [larger version]

In December, the disk's real history came to light: a letter arrived from Laura Torresan, webmaster for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center, expressing excitement about the find. The letter explained that the disk was actually part of a seabed drifter, a yellow disk with a weighted tail to minimize the influence of factors other than bottom currents. Our seabed drifter had been dropped off near the Golden Gate Bridge 40 years ago as part of a study on bottom currents. It took a combination of currents from 1970 until 2010 to get the disk (now minus its weighted tail) from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Clayoquot Sound area. It appears to be one of the last stragglers from a total of nearly 8,000 near-bottom drifters that were released over a year as part of a study of water circulation in the San Francisco Bay area. Staff at the USGS sent some baseball caps along with a kind letter thanking Parks Canada staff for stirring up memories of the "good ol' days."

Long Beach map Left: David Peterson, who took part in the original study, notes that ocean currents reverse seasonally on the west coast, and speculates that the disk traveled to and fro for years before finally washing up on Long Beach. (Enlarged map of Vancouver Island modified from Parks Canada map; used with permission.) [larger version]

Word of the yellow disk also spread to one of the original researchers, now-retired USGS emeritus scientist David Peterson. He was delighted by the find and sent along a report about the original study for which the disks were used to compile data. The discovery even landed on the front page of the Victoria Times-Colonist newspaper and was picked up by several other newspapers across Canada.

Now that its story has been told, the yellow disk is sitting in a designated bin in a USGS archive, its long 40-year journey finally complete, thanks to the curiosity of Jackie and John.

About the author: Laura Judson is a Public Relations and Communications Officer with the Coastal British Columbia Field Unit of Parks Canada.


Related Sound Waves Stories
USGS Current Drifter Ends Decades-Long Journey on Beach in San Pablo Bay
June 2006

Related Web Sites
A preliminary study of the effects of water circulation in the San Francisco Bay estuary: A. Some effects of fresh-water inflow on the flushing of south San Francisco Bay, B. Movement of seabed drifters in the San Francisco Bay estuary and the adjacent Pacific Ocean
Drift of surface and near-bottom waters of the San Francisco Bay system, California March 1970 through April 1971

in this issue:
 previous story | next story


Mailing List:

print this issue print this issue

in this issue:

cover story:
Powerful Earthquake, Devastating Tsunami in Japan

Gulf of Mexico's Deep-Water Coral

Analyzing Sea Otter Death Data

CO2calc—a User-Friendly Seawater-Carbon Calculator

Outreach USGS Drifter Comes Ashore 40 Years After Release

Linking Marine Aquariums to Marine Research and Conservation

Boston University Students Visit Woods Hole

Meetings South Bay Science Symposium

Staff and Center News Intern from Sweden Assisting USGS Staff in Florida

Publications Online Guide for Diatoms

March 2011 Publications

FirstGov.gov U. S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Sound Waves Monthly Newsletter

email Feedback | USGS privacy statement | Disclaimer | Accessibility

This page is http://soundwaves.usgs.gov/2011/03/outreach.html
Updated December 02, 2016 @ 12:09 PM (JSG)