Lubenets A., Tsvetayeva O.

Oles Honchar Dnipropetrovsk National University


As you know, everything new is well forgotten old. That`s why it isn`t surprising that many methods of previous generations get a second life. As an example of this thing we can name a bottled mail. It can carry also a scientific mission. With this mail we can research choppy ocean currents, understand how they relate and what benefit humanity can be learned.

Ensconced in a plain glass bottle, the scrap of paper drifted in the North Sea for 98 years. But when a Scottish skipper pulled it from his nets near the Shetland Islands , he didn't find a lovelorn note or marooned sailor's SOS.

«Please state where and when this card was found, and then put it in the nearest Post Office,» read the message. «You will be informed in reply where and when it was set adrift. Our object is to find out the direction of the deep currents of the North Sea.»

The message in a bottle found by Andrew Leaper – certified by Guinness World Records on August 30 as the oldest ever recovered – belonged to a century-old science experiment. To study local ocean currents, Capt. C. Hunter Brown of the Glasgow School of Navigation set bottle number 646B adrift, along with 1,889 others, on June 10, 1914.

«Drift bottles gave oceanographers at the start of the last century important information that allowed them to create pictures of the patterns of water circulation in the seas around Scotland», Marine Scotland Science's Bill Turrell explained in a statement.

Turrell's Aberdeen-based government agency still keeps and updates Captain Brown's log. According to Turrell, Leaper's discovery – plucked just 9 miles (15 kilo­meters) from where Brown released it – is the 315th bottle recovered from that experiment. Each one, Turrell explained, was «specially weighted to bob along the seabed», hopefully to be scooped up by a trawler or to eventually wash up on shore.

Of course, people used a bottled mail more than 100 years ago, but even then people tried to use it with a scientific aim.

Around 310 B.C., the Greek philosopher Theophrastus plopped sealed bottles in the sea to prove that the Mediterranean was formed by the inflowing Atlantic. (There's no record showing that he ever received a response.)

In the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I of England – thinking some bottles might contain secret messages sent home by British spies or fleets – appointed an «Uncorker of Ocean Bottles», making it a capital crime for anyone else to open one.

And in the 18th century, a treasure-hunting seaman from Japan named Chunosuke Matsuyama, shipwrecked on a South Pacific island with 43 shipmates, carved a message into coconut wood, put it in a bottle, and set it adrift. It was found in 1935—supposedly in the same village where Matsuyama was born.

In the 20th century, doomed World War I soldiers used bottles to send last messages to loved ones. And in 1915, a passenger on the torpedoed «Lusitaniatossed» a poignant note that read, according to one report, «Still on deck with a few people. The last boats have left. We are sinking fast. Some men near me are praying with a priest. The end is near».

Today drift bottles are still used by oceanographers studying global currents. In 2000 Eddy Carmack, a climate researcher at Canada's Institute of Ocean Science, started the Drift Bottle Project, initially to study currents around northern North America.

In the past 12 years, he and his colleagues have launched some 6,400 bottled messages from ships around the world. Of those, 264 – about 4 percent – have been found and reported.

«There have been some amazing paths followed by these bottles», Carmack said.

Three that were dropped into the Beaufort Sea, above northern Alaska and northwestern Canada, became frozen in sea ice, he said. Five years later, melting Arctic ice had flushed the bottles all the way to northern Europe. Another bottle circled Antarctica one and a half times before it wound up on the Australian island of Tasmania. Some have made it from Mexico to the Philippines. And others have demonstrated that oil spills and debris from development in Canada's Labrador Sea and Baffin Bay could end up on Irish, French, Scottish, and Norwegian beaches.

Although, a large quantity of atlases of ocean currents exists now, even now they have many blind spots. Perhaps a bottle mail isn`t the fastest and the best way to explore these spots, but it brings a tangible and real results for many years. A bottle mail is useful for climatology, because the changes of currents` nature often depends on the unequal distribution of atmospheric pressure, separated from the main stream flow causes swirls which cause hurricanes and cyclones.

It is too early to discount the bottled mail; it brings great benefits not only for science.