Advances in the Application of Surface Drifters

Rick Lumpkin, Tamay Özgökmen, Luca Centurioni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


Surface drifting buoys, or drifters, are used in oceanographic and climate research, oil spill tracking, weather forecasting, search and rescue operations, calibration and validation of velocities from high-frequency radar and from altimeters, iceberg tracking, and support of offshore drilling operations. In this review, we present a brief history of drifters, from the message in a bottle to the latest satellite-tracked, multisensor drifters. We discuss the different types of drifters currently used for research and operations as well as drifter designs in development. We conclude with a discussion of the various properties that can be observed with drifters, with heavy emphasis on a critical process that cannot adequately be observed by any other instrument: dispersion in the upper ocean, driven by turbulence at scales from waves through the submesoscale to the large-scale geostrophic eddies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-81
Number of pages23
JournalAnnual Review of Marine Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 3 2017


  • Dispersion
  • Drifters
  • Lagrangian observations
  • Surface currents
  • Transport

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography


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