Continuity of Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Lagrangian Drifter Laboratory (LDL), supporting NOAA’s Global Drifter Program (GDP), is maintaining continuity of operations for its global array of drifters during the COVID-19 pandemic.  It is vital that observing networks continue uninterrupted to provide the national and international use of ocean data that supports improved numerical weather prediction, ocean state estimation, and calibration and validation of satellite sea surface temperatures. Fabrication of drifters continues. The LDL produces about 40% of the drifters deployed globally and is responsible for procuring the other 60% from industry while ensuring adherence to strict quality control guidelines. LDL produces 100% of the specialized equipment for measuring waves and for hurricane deployments. Without continuity of this production, the GDP array would disappear in one year and the hurricane drifters would not be ready for the opening of the hurricane season.

Using a reconfiguration of the laboratory space, LDL members are completely isolated while they work and do not share rooms, labs, computers, and phones with others. Shift timing has been customized to eliminate the use of shared resources, and LDL personnel have been provided PPE such as gloves, respirators, eye protection, and Tyvek suits and disinfectants to be used daily and to support personal safety.

Despite the pandemic, deployments continue to be conducted by partners around the world. Starting on May 12, deployments were carried out in the North Atlantic from the Icelandic Fisheries R/V Bjarni Saemundsson. Starting on May 6, deployments were carried out in the subtropical North Pacific by S/V Kwai, in collaboration with the Ocean Voyage Institute (OVI). The OVI, based in Sausalito, California, and founded by Ms. Mary Crowley, collaborates with the LDL and the GDP within the framework of a multidisciplinary group of NASA-funded researchers (FloatEco). The OVI is looking to expand their partnership with the GDP.

Thanks to a healthy array with good coverage immediately before the pandemic and these recent deployments, the array continues to meet World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) requirements and drifter data flow continues unimpeded. As of the week of May 11, the array consisted of over 1,500 drifters covering 85% of the open ocean surface.