Rubber Ducks Aid Science

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) In this age of computers, lasers and orbiting satellites, scientists are learning a lot from rubber duckies.

Some 29,000 rubber ducks, turtles and other bathtub toys spilled overboard on Jan. 10, 1992, in the North Pacific when a freighter carrying the cargo on its deck was hit by a storm.

So far, 400 of the bobbing toys have been found along 500 miles of Alaskan shoreline, and that is helping researchers trace wind and ocean currents.

“This is serious science,” said Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer at Evans-Hamilton Inc., a consulting company in Seattle. “We are learning a great deal.”

A preliminary study of the duckie migration was published this month in EOS, official journal of the American Geophysical Union, by Ebbesmeyer and computer modeler W. James Ingraham Jr. of the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle.

They also analyzed an earlier example of inadvertent oceanographic science when 61,000 Nike shoes fell off a ship in 1990 and floated toward the West Coast.

Data from the two spills, Ebbesmeyer said, give useful information to oceanographers in predicting where other floating debris will go after spills.

(Sixty-one thousand shoes? It boggles the mind… — ed)