Monday, September 29, 2008

Rubber Duckies and NASA

In January of 1992, thousands of plastic bath toys manufactured by First Years went overboard during a storm in the Pacific Ocean. As these yellow ducks, green frogs, blue turtles, and red beavers washed ashore, Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer and fellow scientist James Ingraham used the information to learn more about ocean currents. (This Wikipedia link will provide you with more details.) If you've watched our Florida Beach Basics - The Space Coast DVD, you know that since that time, Curt has been referred to as Dr. Ducky. (Photo courtesy of Dave Ingraham)

This past week, Yahoo! posted a Discovery Channel article about NASA scientists using yellow ducks to research the path of water from melted glacier ice. The story notes: When a science probe failed to return data about melting glacial ice, a researcher from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory labeled 90 rubber ducks with an email address and the words "science experiment" and "reward" written in English, Danish and the native Inuit language, then set the toys loose in the glacier. The idea was that fisherman would find the ducks and notify him where they were found. (Photo by Konrad Steffen, University of Colorado)

I forwarded the story to Curt, Margie Mitchell, and Ed Perry, and this being a small world after all, a couple of days later, Margie found this yellow duck in the seaweed. (For new readers - Margie is Beach Coordinator for the City of Cocoa Beach and spends a lot of time monitoring the beach, so she's in the right place at the right time to find all these beach things she shares with us.) In the email accompanying the duck photo, she notes: "Look at this duck I found in the seaweed today. Not identical, but awfully close. And nothing written on it but "Made in China." You don't suppose... "

In a follow-up email to Curt, Margie says: "I emailed the guy at JPL. He says it's not one of his. I'll save it for your symposium table anyway, though. It has another story, although we'll probably never know what it is." So this little guy will be at the Sea-Bean Symposium, October 17 & 18, Cocoa Beach Library, at Curt's table.
Anybody missing a duck?

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