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6 Features to Look For When Purchasing a Drifting Weather Buoy

Ayesha Renyard

Source: Sofar Ocean

The Earth is roughly 4.5 billion years old. That means that the weather, too, has been around for a very long time. Yet, our ability to measure global weather is a fairly new phenomenon—a couple of hundred years young—and still faces challenges regarding accuracy, accessibility, and scalability. 

Weather buoys, which are devices put in the ocean to collect weather and ocean data, surfaced and gained popularity in the mid-1900s alongside World War II. Until the 1970s, they were mainly operated by governmental departments and organizations due to their large size and expensive price tag. Consequently, the recorded ocean weather data remained in the hands of nations that could afford to deploy them. This data monopoly is still an issue that exists today. 

However, it is being broken down slowly by affordable tools such as drifting weather buoys. Compared to their moored counterparts, drifting buoys are lightweight and portable—a game-changer for accessibility. 

What are drifting buoys?

Drifting buoys (henceforth drifters) are free-moving devices deployed in the ocean to measure sea state information such as: currents; water, air, and sea surface temperatures; salinity; air pressure; wave direction; and near-surface wind speed and direction. To measure these parameters, they contain different sensors. Data collected from these sensors are first transmitted to satellites passing overhead and then to land-based data centers. 

What are drifters for? 

Besides being a source of weather observations to improve forecasting numerical models, drifter data also inform research programs, emergency responses, legal proceedings, and engineering design. Hey, they're even used by the odd surfer. 

Are you interested in purchasing a drifter for your own project or company, but don't know what features to look for? If so, you're in the right place. We're about to break them down for you. 

5 Features of a Great Drifter

Easy Deployment: There's a lot of size options out there. When purchasing a drifter, we recommend going for something lightweight and portable—so you can get them out there for all sorts of projects. The industry standard has come a long way, with the first ones being around 100lbs. Now we see the average hover around 40lbs and some as light as 12lbs!

1. Durability: The ocean is a rough place, and its conditions are becoming increasingly unstable. When shopping for a drifter, assess the quality control standards for all components of the device, not just the hull. For example, sensors should be placed in a protective casing that not only shields from water, but other impactful conditions such as humidity or freezing temperatures. The material should also be easy to clean, as drifters are susceptible to biofouling. Paying the extra money to ensure your drifter is built well will save you money on repairs later!

2. Powering Options: Scope your options when it comes to how the device is powered. Although most batteries last a long time (sometimes months!), solar-powered drifters also exist, such as the ones sold by Sofar Ocean. During normal deployments—even at higher latitudes and overcast conditions—it can run continuously because of this capability. If left in complete darkness, it can last 10.5 days. In the odd case it runs out of power, it will simply go to sleep until there’s light again. Then, it will turn on and pick up where it left off. That's the kind of flexibility that is out there. So do your research!

3. Integration Options: To maximize your use of the drifter, look out for integration capabilities. Can it host a variety of different sensors? Can it work within a distributed network of drifters? Can it be a part of an anchored system in coastal regions? The more it can do, the more data points you can unlock.

4. GPS Tracking: Because they literally drift, the ability to track your buoys is very important. Sometimes you will need to collect your buoy if it becomes damaged. Other times, people may attempt to steal them. In any case, you'll want to be equipped to act quickly and retrieve your drifter. We often see people buy and deploy more than one, so GPS keeps your buoys' locations well organized. 

5. Cloud API: A cloud API system is the way of the future. With cloud capabilities, all your data is immediately sent to the cloud so that you can retrieve your data in real-time. If you have a large network consisting of many drifters (with many sensors), all of this data can be aggregated under one dashboard. If you're running a large-scale project, a cloud API is a must! Plus, you can receive insights and notifications much quicker. Work smarter, not harder.  


Product Feature: Sofar Ocean's Spotter 

Sofar Ocean's Spotter is a drifter buoy that is affordable, lightweight (only 12lbs!), and has a rugged design to withstand the harshest ocean weather conditions. Since its launch in 2017, it has logged more than a million ocean hours, so Sofar Ocean decided to release an updated model. Spotter V2 comes with more power-saving capabilities through hibernation-mode, new sensors, and comes with a full year of free data. Get the full details on Sofar Ocean's drifter, Spotter V2, here

How are people using Spotter V2 today? Take a look at how MetOcean Solutions used Spotters deployed five solar-powered wave buoys to uncover new insight on waves in the region and their impact on the climate system. 

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