Summer 2021 eNewsletter

Spotlight: CIGLR Research Institute’s Hayden Henderson Discusses Spotter Buoys

A Spotter buoy is about the size of a basketball. Photo Credit: Sofar Ocean.

Great Lakes observing systems provide critical information to support natural resource decision making, forecasting, public health protection, and navigation safety and efficiency. CIGLR is at the forefront of implementing well-integrated observing systems that monitor key aspects of the Great Lakes environment. Data collected from buoys, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), gliders, and satellites help us understand natural changes in the system, identify human-induced disturbances, and support the development of climate, weather, and ecosystem forecasts.

During the month of May 2021, Environmental Observing Systems Engineer Hayden Henderson and the CIGLR Synthesis, Observations, and Response (SOAR) team serviced and deployed eleven research buoys of all shapes and sizes, in four of the five Great Lakes. Included in this effort was the deployment of newer, compact wave buoys, called spotter buoys, with partners in Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Superior – with one heading to Lake Erie later this summer.

Click the image to watch the Point Betsie spotter buoy find its new home with Sleeping Bear Surf and Kayak in Lake Michigan. Video Credit: Mike King.

Slightly larger than a basketball and weighing just twelve pounds, spotter buoys rely on recent advancements in GPS technology to resolve wave measurements. Data are sent from the buoy to iridium satellites every thirty minutes and hosted by the Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS). “All Spotter buoys feature a sea surface temperature sensor. Our deployment in Lake Huron (Les Cheneaux Islands, SPOT-1080) is capable of also measuring temperature below the surface, as it includes one of the first temperature sensor strings used with these buoys in the Great Lakes,” said Henderson.

“We originally purchased and deployed a  few spotter buoys as placeholders for our larger, more complex units when COVID-19 made it infeasible for us to depart on multi-day ship operations,” said Henderson. “Spotter buoys are light and do not require a massive mooring weight and crane; so, we were able to deploy them by hand with local boat support at our longstanding weather buoy sites in Ludington and Little Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan.”

This year, vessel operations resumed with COVID safety measures in place. “The spotter buoys were such a success last field season that we couldn’t just leave them on the shelf,” said Henderson. “We solicited feedback from modelers and forecasters at NOAA GLERL and the National Weather Service on where water quality observations were lacking in the region. Our team used this information as along with community support and oversight to decide on new spotter buoy locations. Currently, we have spotter buoy sponsors located at Point Betsie in Lake Michigan (with support from Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak), and Les Cheneaux in Lake Huron (with support from Kenny Contracting and the Chamber of Commerce). Our goal is to expand the locations of these affordable and user-deployable spotter buoys to enhance and ensure the recreational safety for local stakeholders, while providing valuable observations for our Great Lakes researchers.”