Image caption: Our ten-year-old buoy is quite weather-worn.
We have been operating a Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS) buoy in the open waters of the eastern basin of Lake Erie for a decade now. For the last ten years, each spring to late fall, this buoy has been collecting weather and lake condition data and making these data available (both archived and in real time) to anglers, boaters and researchers alike. Anglers and other boaters tend to be interested in wind and wave information so that they can make decisions about the safety or comfort of heading out onto the lake; researchers have used these data for climate modelling work; and fishery managers conducting field work use pretty much the whole suite of data to help guide fisheries sampling decisions or to perhaps explain events such as a sudden fish kill.
Going into the 2020 season, it looked like the GLC buoy would be in its last season. Funding was uncertain and the ten-year-old system for relaying cellular data back to our computers was no longer going to be supported by the cellular service provider. The only technical fix available required components too large to fit in the hull of the buoy and there was no inexpensive remedy for the problem. In addition to the connectivity problem, the buoy was really starting to show the effects of a decade of exposure to storms, heat, cold and sunshine.
Conditions on Lake Erie can be very rough at times. The buoy survived multiple storms where the average wave height was 17 feet or more, and although dramatic events such as storms can take their toll, it was often the act of deploying and retrieving the buoy that most put it at risk. Covered with sensors and solar panels and measuring in at around 800 pounds and 16 feet in length, the buoy is heavy, awkward, and quite fragile, and contact with any hard object can do real damage. After ten years of service, the buoy is in rough shape.
All of these factors seemed to indicate that we would not likely be able to continue operations of the buoy in 2021. Fortunately, the situation has recently changed. The GLOS administration reviewed the user statistics of the various buoys for which they have provided support and it turns out that the Dunkirk buoy is extremely popular. There were over 19,000 visits to the Dunkirk location of the GLOS website in 2019, and when we were forced to delay deployment of the buoy by about two months this spring, there was a surge of comments to the site asking for the buoy to be deployed. In 2020, the site received almost 16,000 visits from over 1,750 viewers despite the truncated season.
The GLOS organization, like so many others these days, has limited resources. However, the interest shown by the community helped to make continuation of the Dunkirk buoy a priority. We are currently working with GLOS to acquire a new buoy and expect to have the buoy operational for spring 2021. This buoy would have current technology for communications as well as improved sensors. In addition, it is considerably smaller: 9 feet long as opposed to 16 feet and weighs over 500 pounds less than the original. We currently expect to have the operational costs of the buoy covered for next year and after that time we will, with the help of GLOS, be looking to find alternate sources of funding to cover repairs, maintenance, and deployment of the new buoy.
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