Ensconced in a plain glass bottle, the scrap of paper drifted in the North Sea for 98 years. But when a Scottish skipper pulled it from his nets near the Shetland Islands (map) last April, he didn’t find a lovelorn note or marooned sailor’s SOS.
“Please state where and when this card was found, and then put it in the nearest Post Office,” read the message. “You will be informed in reply where and when it was set adrift. Our object is to find out the direction of the deep currents of the North Sea.”
The message in a bottle found by Andrew Leaperâ€”certified by Guinness World Records on August 30 as the oldest ever recoveredâ€”belonged to a century-old science experiment. To study local ocean currents, Capt. C. Hunter Brown of the Glasgow School of Navigation set bottle number 646B adrift, along with 1,889 others, on June 10, 1914.
“Drift bottles gave oceanographers at the start of the last century important information that allowed them to create pictures of the patterns of water circulation in the seas around Scotland,” Marine Scotland Science‘s Bill Turrell explained in a statement.