EDS Newsletter #4: Enhancing Spill Response and SAR Missions with Drifting Buoys

As part of our commitment to support marine responders, RPS is continuously adapting to technology advancements and new data availability to deliver industry leading solutions using our Environmental Data Services (EDS). This includes working closely with marine responders to gather data and integrate near-real-time information into our response tools, OILMAP, SARMAP, and CHEMMAP. Drifting buoys have emerged as a critical tool that can support improve outcomes and help to understand the response environment. Learn how our EDS operational users can now leverage the data obtained from drifting buoys to make real time informed decisions. 

Eric Comerma, Director, International Services

The benefit of using drifting buoys (drifters) in marine oil spill monitoring has been extensively demonstrated in real incidents and field exercises by giving oil spill responders information about ocean variables. As a valuable resource for responders and decision-makers, drifters can offer a near-real-time glimpse into the ocean conditions, greatly improving situational awareness.  



In line with our operational delivery mission, RPS has seamlessly integrated multiple sources of drifter tracks into EDS. As a result, our MAP Apps users can now improve model predictions and leverage these advancements to: 

  1. Add a dynamic "Life Layer" to the background of their MAP Apps, providing a ground-truth check about ocean dynamics (such as waves, currents, wind speed, direction). 
  2. Compare between the real track of the drifters and the results of several spill/drift predictions using different inputs from metocean models, providing an on-the-fly assessment of the metocean inputs accuracy. 
  3. Access a drifter-derived velocity field (calculated by EDS), serving as a ground-truth input to improve the drifting/spill predictions.  

This integration empowers users to make better informed decisions based on the most up-to-date reliable data. 


Added as a new layer type in EDS, RPS regularly collects drifter tracks from several public and private (commercial) sources, making the data readily available for display and further analysis. This includes, for example, the drifter programs of the US Coastguard and the EU’s Copernicus initiate. 

This means that thanks to the webmap services of EDS, MAP Apps and Oceansmap users can now choose to display the historical or near-real-time position of ocean drifters – these appear as a “Live Data” layer that can be queried for additional information (such as buoy ID, precise location and time). 

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Example display (top & bottom) of drifters’ trajectories (Copernicus Drifters) in the “Live Data” layer.


Drifters’ tracks provide a partial view of historical and near-real-time ocean conditions for a specific Area of Interest (AOI). To extract actionable information from these tracks, EDS calculates behind-the-scenes the velocity fields associated with the track of the drifter; this vector field corresponds to the driving forces of the drift.  

Once a MAP App user selects the timeframe and an AOI that has been covered by drifters, through EDS they can download a current file corresponding to the drifter-derived velocity field. This velocity field can then be used as input (forcing) to subsequent drifting or spill prediction. 


Contact us to further discover how marine responders can leverage the potential of RPS EDS. 

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Example of drifter-derived velocity field (gridded blue arrows) interpolated from the two positions of drifter tracks (rainbow colours).

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