Skip to main content Skip to main navigation


Extreme westward surface drift in the North Sea: Public reports of strandeddrifters and Lagrangian tracking

E.V. Stanev; T.H. Badewien; H. Freund; S. Graye; F. Hahner; J. Meyerjürgens; M. Ricker; R.I. Schöneich-Argent; J.-O. Wolff; Oliver Zielinski
In: Continental Shelf Research, Vol. 177, Pages 24-32, Elsevier, Amsterdam, 4/2019.


Observations using two kinds of drifters were carried out in the southern North Sea aiming to study the propagation pathways of marine litter. One drifter, which was driven by the upper layer currents, was equipped with Global Positioning System. Further 1600 wooden drifters, mostly driven by wind and Stokes drift, were released offshore in German waters. The detailed reports of stranded wooden drifters from members of the public, the majority of which are likely to be non-scientists, provided a valuable contribution to the drifter experiment demonstrating the usefulness of citizen science. In 2018, an extreme wind event reversed the circulation of North Sea for more than a month which resulted in a large number of wooden drifters being washed ashore on the British coast. Lagrangian numerical experiments, calibrated using data from the drifter observations, helped explain the anomalous transport and the reversal of the circulation at the sea surface and in deeper layers. The plausibility of similar events during past decades has also been estimated using data from atmospheric analyses. Events as strong as the one observed in 2018 occurred only four times in the last 40 years.