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Buoys are the backbone of the Great Lakes observing network, giving us crucial information about the always changing lakes.

Getting a buoy ready for deployment

These floating sensor platforms are known for their versatility and being relatively easy to deploy and maintain. Depending on how they are configured, buoys can monitor dozens of weather and water conditions like:


  • Physical parameters (including wind speed, water temperature, and wave height)
  • Chemical and biological parameters (including pH, chlorophyll, and turbidity)

Buoys can be left free-floating to drift with the lake currents or be anchored to the lakefloor to float at the surface or underwater, depending on where they need to take measurements.

An illustration of a buoy showing the equipment it's configured with. On the top, wind speed and direction, an antenna, a web cam, solar radiation, lightning rod, precipitation, a weather station that measures air pressure, air temperature, humidity, and a safety light. In the buoy hull a wave sensor, data logger, and battery. On the buoy hull, solar panels. Under the water, a water current profiler, water quality sensors that measure water temperature, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll, blue green algae, pH, and turbitdity, a mooring eye, a mooring line, a light penetration sensor. Next to the mooring line, temperature sensors arranged on a cable reaching nearly to the lakefloor. At the bottom, an anchor, and just above that a security float.

If you swam up to a surface buoy, above the water you might see:

  • A large, floating hull made of foam or fiberglass
  • Weather sensors to take measurements of atmospheric conditions
  • Solar panels to power the sensors, data loggers and communication systems to send the data
  • A safety light that keeps boaters from hitting the buoy

Below the water, you might see:

  • A mooring line to keep the buoy in place
  • Water sensors
  • Subsurface floats to keep the mooring line out of the mud
  • A concrete anchor

Buoys help researchers, beachgoers, anglers, water treatment plant managers, boaters, and others make informed decisions about their interaction with the lakes.

In the Great Lakes region, due to weather conditions, it takes a community of dedicated professionals in the government, at universities, and at private companies to take care of them, deploying them every spring and recovering them every fall.

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