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Following the track of 80,000 wet Nikes.

When Seattle resident Curtis C. Ebbesmeyer learned that a severe storm had dumped a shipment of Nike athletic shoes into the Pacific Ocean, he immediately began searching for the shoes washed up on shore. His purpose was not to pick up a free pair of hightops. Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer at Evans-Hamilton, Inc., wanted to use the wayward Nikes to study how ocean currents wind through the northeast Pacific.

The 80,000 shoes went overboard in May 1990, about 800 kilometers southeast of the Alskan Peninsula. Six months to a year later, they began appearing on beaches of British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. After learning of the spill, Ebbesmeyer began calling beachcombers to find out precisely when the shoes arrived at various spots.

All told, Ebbesmeyer tracked down reports of about 1,300 shoes washing ashore. He contacted W. James Ingraham Jr. of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle, who modeled the path of the drifting shoes. The two researchers described their work in the Aug. 25 EOS, published by the American Geophysical Union.

Strange as it seems, the shoe spill is not all that different from planned drift experiments. During past projects in the area, researchers released tens of thousands of drift bottles over a period of several years and recovered a few thousand.

The shoe data can help in testing oceanographic models used to study currents, Ebbesmeyer says. When he and Ingraham simulated the spill with a model of the subarctic Pacific, the model predicted the shoes would drift due east and arrive first at Vancouver Island. That calculation wasn't far off. The shoes actually arrived first in nearby Washington, and then at Vancouver Island a few months later. Over the winter, the shoes flowed to the northwest with the prevailing currents and then came back southeast the following spring.

The researchers report that floating Nikes have recently turned up at the northern end of the big island of Hawaii. If they survive for a few more years, some of the shoes should eventually reach Asia and Japan. Sneakers that landed along the Pacific Northwest were wearable even after a year of floating in the ocean. Ebbesmeyer can attest to that; he just bought a pair of size 12 basketball shoes from a beachcomber.
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Title Annotation:research on ocean current paths using storm-dumped athletic shoes
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Sep 19, 1992
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