Message-in-a-bottle project rediscovered after half century

A half-century-old project led by the Canadian navy’s civilian research branch has been rediscovered after being forgotten for decades.

In the 1950s, the Naval Research Establishment — now called the Defence Research and Development Canada’s Atlantic Research Centre — tossed 1,000 glass bottles into the ocean.

Inside each bottle was a questionnaire about where each bottle was found and a promise to send 50 cents if the card was mailed back to Halifax.

The goal was to study ocean currents. Depending on the location and date they were found, researchers could estimate the direction and strength of mid-ocean currents.

More than 140 cards were returned, but they sat in a small cardboard box for nearly five decades.

“We recently moved into a new building and when we were packing up to move out, we found this box of cards in our library,” said Cristina Tollefsen, a DRDC researcher.

She sorted the cards by region, including Canadian provinces. They also came from Norway, Portugal, Morocco, England and the Azores.

Some of the cards even offer a snapshot of history. For example, bottles reached the Azores shortly after a major volcanic eruption in 1957.

“We have several cards from the Azores, and one of them asks us to send clothing and stuff instead of 50 cents because his family had lost everything in the volcanic eruption.”

Tollefsen said there are now more accurate ways to determine ocean currents using satellites.

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