Drift buoy

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Launching a floating buoy for the Argo program in the Southern Ocean from the research vessel Polarstern (2007)

A floating buoy is a buoy that has no attachment to the bottom. Other common names are drifter , drift buoy , float (er) and floating drifter . Floating buoys are used in marine research , but also in inland waters, to collect measurement data such as ocean current conditions , water temperatures (especially sea ​​surface temperature ), salinity or weather data. Today's floating buoys often transmit their data to a ground station by satellite.

The size and shape of the floating buoys are completely different and depend on the purpose and area of ​​use. For example, floating buoys that are supposed to follow a sea current as closely as possible often have an underwater drift sail in order to minimize the distorting effects of wind and waves. Modern floating buoys can have GPS receivers or Argos transmitters . This means that it is now possible to precisely link the measured data from the buoy with its respective position. If a floating buoy is deployed in waters that are being used, in some cases a warning can also be given to shipping.

Sea drifting buoys were first used by the United States and Great Britain in 1955 .

Programs and projects

Floating buoy positions as of March 24, 2014
"Holey sock" floating buoy with sensors for air pressure, surface temperature, lighting density and CTD
Scheme of an ARGO buoy


The Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) project is part of the Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS ). Since 2005, a total of 1250 floating buoys have been deployed to measure the flow conditions, temperature and salinity of the oceans and the air pressure at sea level.


In the international research program ARGO , a total of 3000 floating buoys (mostly called floats) were deployed in all oceans from 1999 to 2007.

These floats with a length of around two meters and a mass of around 30 kilograms have an expected service life of four to five years. They sink in 10-day cycles to a depth of 1500 to 2000 meters and then briefly appear on the surface of the sea to transmit the measurement data to a satellite.

As part of the ARGO program, floating buoys were also deployed by the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency until October 2007 .

See also

Web links