High-tech buoy monitors weather in
By John Flesher
Posted on Kansas.com on August 25, 2005
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - A solar-powered buoy bobbing on
the surface of Grand Traverse Bay is providing boaters,
forecasters and other interested people with up-to-date
information about the Lake Michigan waterway's sometimes
And that's just for starters, if scientists have their
way. The floating device is being added to a developing
network of Great Lakes buoys that could support research
projects on topics ranging from global warming to oxygen
The University of Michigan's Marine Hydrodynamics Lab
is managing data transmitted from the buoy, which was
launched last month. The information, updated every 10
minutes, became available over the Internet this week.
The buoy will be removed during winter, when the bay
surface often freezes.
"This is going to have a lot of practical applications
for near-coast users as well as the research community,"
Mark Breederland, the Michigan Sea Grant Extension educator
for northwestern Michigan, said Thursday.
The buoy is about 10 feet high, but only the top 4.5
feet reaches above the surface. It's fitted with sensors
that measure wind speed and direction, wave height, and
temperatures of the air and surface water. It is anchored
about 1.5 miles north of Traverse City on the western
arm of the bay, where the water is 150 feet deep.
The National Weather Service monitors the same conditions
from the Cherry Capital Airport, only a few miles away.
"But the wind changes dramatically as it encounters
the edge of the land," said Guy Meadows, director
of the university lab. "It's very important to get
measurements in the water itself."
The buoy already is proving valuable to the weather service
office in Gaylord, which prepares marine forecasts for
a wide area that includes Grand Traverse Bay.
"Even with all the satellites and radars and other
tools we have, there's a surprising lack of direct measurements
of the marine environment," forecaster Steve Rowley
said. "For the first time, we have an instrument
that can help provide those measurements of the winds
The data will be valuable for recreational boaters, sport
and commercial fishermen and others who need accurate
information about conditions on the roughly 30-mile-long
bay, Meadows said.
It also will assist educational programs. Law enforcement
agencies could consult the database for updates on water
currents when searching for drowning victims, Meadows
The buoy, which cost about $60,000, previously was placed
in Lake St. Clair. It generated information for a computer
model the University of Michigan lab developed to track
water flow and predict when pollutants such as E. coli
might drift near shore. Great Lakes beaches sometimes
are closed when sewer overflows contaminate the waters
with E. coli, a bacterium that can cause diarrhea, dehydration
and other illnesses.
Scientists want to produce a similar model for Grand
Traverse Bay, Meadows said.
The device has been added to a computer-linked network
of Great Lakes buoys. Together, they are part of an observation
system under development to support research into climate
change, low oxygen levels and other topics.
The buoy also will supply information to a data center
operated by the National Weather Service, which manages
two other buoys in Lake Michigan.
ON THE NET
Data from buoy accessible at: