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An Economical Open-Source Lagrangian Drifter Design to Measure Deep Currents in Lakes
  • Lewis McCaffrey,
  • Alexander L Koeberle
Lewis McCaffrey
NYS Dept Environmental Conservation

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Alexander L Koeberle
Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, Cornell University
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The objective was to construct and test an economical, accurate, and open-source Lagrangian drifter design suitable for lakes <200 km2. Lagrangian drifters are used to trace water currents in marine and freshwater settings and comprise of a low-friction surface float containing instrumentation for location and environmental measurement, tethered to a high-friction drogue at the depth of interest. Oceanic drifters are robust but expensive, and this design tailored to inland lake waterbodies fills a durability and cost gap for lake environments. Water-following characteristics were tested using theoretical drag coefficient calculations, practical drag measurements, and comparison of wind and drifter vectors while deployed on two deep inland lakes (maximum area 175 km2) in the Finger Lakes region of New York, USA. The ratio of drag between float and drogue met or exceeded the minimum value of 40 recommended in the literature, and the vectors of wind and drifter during deployment were independent of one another, meaning the device accurately traced the movement of water currents at depth without undue influence of wind and waves. Each device cost USD $265 in 2021 and was built from materials readily available at hardware and sporting goods stores, allowing their use by research institutions and communities with smaller budgets. This design reliably measured lake currents at sampling depths that ranged from to 30 m. We anticipate that this design will have application to a wide range of hydrodynamic and ecological research where empirical insights to physical processes like lake currents are sought by scientists and managers.
07 Mar 2024Submitted to ESS Open Archive
15 Mar 2024Published in ESS Open Archive