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North Atlantic gyre as communication device

Jan 1, 2003

Messages in bottles have always intrigued people; perhaps no more so than in these jaded days of personal speed-of-light communications by email and satellite phone.

With a little faith and the help of his teacher, 14-year-old Michael Lester launched a sealed 20-ounce soft-drink bottle containing a message into stormy waters off Cape Cod National Seashore. That was in April of 2001. Almost a year later, Richard Barrett was strolling along the windswept shores of Achill Island, off Ireland's west coast, when he bent down to retrieve a bottle containing what looked like a piece of paper. It was Michael's message! (Richard replied, but did so by more conventional means.)

Michael's communication had made its way across some 2500 nautical miles of tempestuous Atlantic, without the expenditure any of the earth's non-renewable resources and at an average speed of about 0.3 knots, a leisurely pace only slightly slower than Christmas mail wending its way through the U. S. postal system.

The very idea that the interplay of wind, water and the earth's rotation can be harnessed to convey human thought across thousands of miles of ocean will continue to fascinate, even as our fatal dependence on real-time communications devices forbids us trying to contact our brokers using such dubious nautical means.