I Found a Charleston Student’s Message in a Bottle from a Science Project
Messages in bottles have been used by scientists since the mid 19th century to study ocean currents. Indeed, the oldest messages in bottles ever found have been from science experiments. It’s no wonder that they are still used to study ocean currents. I had never found a message in a bottle from a science project in a bottle until I stumbled upon this one. It appears to be a student’s message in a bottle from a larger project.
I was intrigued by the two small scrolls. The bottle also contained a piece of string, and the cork was so loose in the neck, it soon fell into the bottle. I realized: as the cork dried out, water seeped in, weakening the paper. Then, the string tied around the center acted like a saw, and cut the wet scroll clean in half. It must have washed up at this point–had it stayed at sea, water would have seeped in, destroyed the message, and sunk the bottle.
The paper was visibly too fragile to just unroll right away. So, I did what I always do in these situations: I set aside the message in a bottle until my famously slow brain could figure out what to do. I didn’t want to mess with those scrolls until I knew how to unroll them without damaging them.
Getting the Message Out of the Bottle
Getting this message out of its bottle was easy compared to most. Since the cork had dried out and fallen into the bottle, I didn’t even have to pull it out. The scrolls were no longer tied by strings, but they had “frozen” into their tight rolled up shapes after getting wet and drying out. All I had to do was get in there with some big ol’ tweezers (actually, “forceps,” my wife tells me), and pull the scrolls out, as you can see in the video.
Next came the tricky part. The paper was glued to itself by the soaking / drying action it experienced between being at sea and beaching. Luckily, in addition to the “forceps” (that is, “big ol’ tweezers) my wife gave me a scalpel for just such situations! With explicit instructions to never attempt actual surgery, of course…
But the scalpel alone would not be enough. A while back, I began to wonder if I could somehow moisten brittle messages like this one in order to get the paper to “relax”. I got the answer on Message in a Bottle Day back in 2017 when I tried flicking water carefully onto a similar fragile message. Luckily, it worked!
I armed myself with a misting bottle, and spritzed this message.
I was amazed by how writing appeared through he damp paper. The paper was thin — thinner than “paper thin” — and words showed through the layers.
Alternating between spritzing and dissecting with the scalpel, I eventually unrolled the scrolls all the way. You can see the process from start to finish in this video!
Full Text of the Message in a Bottle Science Project
As you can see, the first two lines of the message are damaged such that the second half of each line is missing. Here’s what I can make out (with guesses in parentheses):
This bottle is part (of a) project for a [missing words]
6th Grader at Charlesto…
Can you … me?
Can you please email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
1. The location where you found this bottle (e.g. Cape Fear, NC, Myrtle Beach, SC, etc.) and include latitude and longitude if possible?
2. The date you found it.
Any other information is great (weather, time of day, where it was found like a marsh, etc.). This would be extremely helpful, but the most critical is the location and date so that I can plot the speed of the gulfstream.
P.S. Don’t forget to recycle the bottle 🙂
I was struck by the fact that the entire upper righthand section of the paper was missing. It wasn’t stuck to the inside of the bottle, it wasn’t in pieces at the bottom–it was just totally gone. Like it had dissolved!
My guess is that the student’s name, the school’s name, and the date were all originally in that area.
Evidence of a Young Scientific Mind
I also just have to say how much I enjoy seeing a curious young mind at work in the note. You can see that this student has already studied the gulf stream a bit and understands how it flows in relation to the land, and furthermore they understand that the bottle will likely not travel very far — They seem to be content with the idea that it might make landfall within South Carolina or North Carolina. But maybe they secretly hoped it would go farther? I love this about science: it empowers us to dream of what may be possible, but the scientific process also forces us to stay grounded, skeptical, and attentive rather than speculative.
In any case, I doubt the student expected their message in a bottle would get truly swept into the gulf stream, which would carry it up to the North Atlantic Drift where it would float eastward until it got swept into the south-flowing Canaries Current, which would in turn dump it into the west-flowing North Equatorial Current, which would carry it to an uninhabited island in the Caribbean where I found it. But, that is exactly what happened.
Well, I emailed the address on the note when I opened this thing in the fall of 2018, but I have still not heard back.
Something tells me this student is not in 6th grade anymore…
Help Solve a Message in a Bottle Science Project!
So here we are! I need help figuring out who sent this and when. Please help share this story, especially if you know anyone in South Carolina!
Was it sent by an entire class who was doing a “Gulf Stream Bottle Project” together? That would mean that there is a teacher who oversees / oversaw this project. Or–was it an individual student’s message in a bottle science project, maybe part of something like a science fair?
Look at the pieces, and how the floating piece in the upper right might fit in:
Does it say “This is part of a project for a class. I am a 6th grader”? If so, that would suggest a whole class took part.
Or maybe it says: “This is part of a project for a 6th grader…”? If that’s correct, then this is from an individual–not a class.
What do you think?
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I’d try calling different middle schools/ k-12 schools that start with “Charleston”. This is pretty unique, so I’d bet they would be willing to help out and ask the science teachers.