Drifter deployment in the Malta Channel

Sea surface current and temperature measurements by the Physical Oceanography Research Group, at the Department of Geosciences within the Faculty of Sciences, University of Malta, have not cooled down during summer. With the support of the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM), five surface Lagrangian drifters have been released between Malta and Sicily to study circulation patterns and changes in the sea surface temperature. Drifters consist of a spherical float and subsurface vanes that sense the drag of the sea currents. Each buoy was programmed to transmit short burst data messages every hour that encode information about the instrument’s current position as well as other information related to the conditions of the sea at that point. By using satellite telemetry and the Iridium constellation, transmitted data packets can be picked up from anywhere on the globe.


Ten day trajectories followed by the deployed five drifters


This is one of several ongoing drifter experiments that is serving to better understand the mesoscale circulations that exist around the Maltese islands and the Malta-Sicily Channel. The data collected is also used to validate the observations made by the CALYPSO HF Radar network. With radial sites at Ta’ Barkat (in Xghajra, Malta) and at Ta’ Sopu (Nadur, Gozo) which are synchronised with two other radars in Pozzallo and Ragusa (in Sicily), this system is capable of measuring real-time sea surface currents every hour and show how these evolve through time. Apart from allowing for more accurate numerical forecasting models to be developed, such information is vital for search and rescue operations. This data is also useful in case of hazardous substances or oil leaks that could drift towards Malta. The drifters show how oil slicks could eventually land on our coasts even though they are released several kilometres away from the islands.


Deployment of a drifter in open waters by the Armed Forces of Malta
(photo courtesy of AFM Bdr Muscat C. and SSgt Santillo E.)

Planned future work includes the enhancement of the HF Radar network coverage to the southern approaches of the islands.

Ocean observations and monitoring are carried out by Prof. Aldo Drago and Adam Gauci from the Physical Oceanography Research Group within the Department of Geosciences of the Faculty of Science. Deployment of the instruments could not have been possible without the help of the Armed Forces of Malta.

This activity was done in collaboration with Istituto Nazionale di Oceanografia e di Geofisica Sperimentale (OGS) in Italy. The deployed instruments form part of MedArgo which is a programme within the Mediterranean Operational Network for the Global Ocean Observing System (MONGOOS) and provides data to the Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service (CMEMS). Partial support is provided by the Argo-Italy and European Commission projects. The real-time trajectories of the drifters can be followed from the following link.

Students interested in the management of coastal and marine resources, policy-making, governance, marine-related industries, environmental monitoring, marine observations and forecasting can follow a one-year Master course in Applied Oceanography which features a dedicated bootcamp involving fieldwork and instrument deployment. More information can be obtained from the following link.

Applications for this course must be received by not later than 30 September 2016.