Vis-a-thon 2020

Drawing Drifter Path

Kevin Rosa

PhD, University of Rhode Island, Graduate School of Oceanography


Rafael Attias

At the time of Vis-a-thon 2020, Kevin Rosa (then a PhD candidate) studied Narragansett Bay ocean currents and made movies and images of ocean model results using Matlab.

Kevin Rosa, Initial Proposal Note

To visualize the circulation in the bay, we decided to use “drifters” which are hypothetical specks that go wherever the currents take them. Going into the 48-hour work window, we were thinking we wanted to highlight the random paths of individual drifters. Similar to a skater leaving a trail across a fresh ice rink, we can draw the drifter’s path and find clues and stories about its behavior.

Kevin Rosa

Initial Drifter Paths Drawing on the Map of Narragansett Bay

We found that these individual paths aren’t very compelling, but when you draw many drifters something interesting happens: you start to see an outline of Narragansett Bay.

For Vis-a-thon, Kevin's project used a drawing machine to layer different drifter paths onto two-dimensional materials, allowing outcomes that show movement, time and place to emerge from empty space. Layering of these drifter paths allows for convergence and emergence of activity in Narragansett Bay and the Rhode Island Sound.

Drawings of Drifter Path with Different Tools

From Top Left to Clockwise

Water Color Drawing, Black Copic Marker Drawing, Color Crayons Drawing, Micron on Yupo Paper Drawing

Drawings of Drifter Path with Different Tools

From Top to Bottom

Color Micron Drawing, Black Pen Drawing, Black Pencil Drawing

Drawing Final Work with Pen Plotter

Typically in Rosa's research, he uses drifters to tell specific stories. He tries to strip away all the factors that aren't important in order to get the simplest useful exploration. However, by plotting so many drifters that they produce a map of the bay, a different story is told, one which highlights the inherent limitations in any simple description.

Drawing Drifter Path, Final Work

The bay is a "chaotic" system. Small changes in the initial conditions produce an unpredictable change in the outcome. As unlikely as any single trajectory seems, it will eventually happen. And the human impact is that pollution from Providence or other coastal cities won't all ride some express route out to the ocean—there will be some remnant on every beach and in every fish.

This not a random system just because it's a chaotic one. He's working with this same dataset right now and locating hotspots where he expects high concentrations of microplastics. But while it's a very practical approach, it tends to discount the beauty of the outliers. This work highlighted the more unpredictable side.

Tools Used in the Project

Adobe Illustrator Matlab Inkscape AxiDraw V3


© Drawing Drifter Path, 2020

This material is based upon work supported in part by the National Science Foundation under EPSCoR Cooperative Agreement #OIA-1655221.
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.