How Jennette's Pier and CSI Use Spotters to Enhance Wave Energy Development

Sofar Ocean

This blog was written by Vega Sproul and Cora McQuaid of Coastal Studies Institute Summer Interns.

Image Above: Dr. Mike Muglia during a test article deployment for the Waves to Water Prize competition at Jennette’s Pier. The Spotter buoy in the background is deployed at one of two MHK test sites at the pier.

The Coastal Studies Institute (CSI) is a multi-institutional research and education facility of the University of North Carolina System located on the ECU Outer Banks Campus on Roanoke Island. CSI’s research focuses on a variety of coastal disciplines including coastal dynamics, biology, ecology, environmental geography, engineering, social and behavioral studies, and economics. The multidisciplinary approach provides thorough solutions to complex problems, while embracing the unique history, culture, and environment of coastal communities in northeastern North Carolina. 

In addition to institutional partnerships, CSI has an ongoing relationship with NC Aquariums’ Jennette’s Pier. The Pier is located in Nags Head, NC, approximately five miles from CSI and has an annual public visitation of about 250,000 people per year. In partnership with Jennette’s Pier, CSI operates a renewable ocean energy testing site at the pier. There are currently two Sofar Spotter buoys deployed on either side of Jennette's Pier at the offshore corners of two permitted Marine Hydrokinetic Energy (MHK) device test areas. The Spotter buoys provide measurements of directional wave spectra and water temperature crucial for the development and testing of MHK devices. CSI is also one of four recently appointed institutional members of the newly founded Atlantic Marine Energy Center (AMEC). Other partners include Lehigh University, Stony Brook, and the University of New Hampshire. AMEC plans to make Jennette’s Pier an accredited testing facility available to international researchers and private industry partners interested in testing in the unique marine environment of the Outer Banks. 

Currently, the buoys provide competitors in the Department of Energy’s Waves to Water Prize (W2W), with crucial data on the local wave environment. The W2W competition challenges innovators to create wave-powered desalination systems with the intention of accelerating the development of small, modular, wave-powered desalination systems that can provide potable drinking water to coastal communities in disaster relief settings. In partnership with the DOE and the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), CSI will host the Drink Stage of the competition in April 2022 at Jennette’s Pier. The data collected from the Spotter buoys will help competitors prepare their devices for the conditions they will be facing in the testing phase of the competition next April. 

The two buoys are also serving as an experimental site for characterizing the biofouling community of the area and evaluating ClearSignal’s biofouling protection coating.  Biofouling is the accumulation of marine organisms on underwater surfaces. It is one of the biggest factors affecting the cost, operation, maintenance, and data quality of oceanographic instrumentation and can also be detrimental to the operation, performance, and maintenance of MHK devices. ClearSignal’s coating is a silicone-based, non-stick, non-toxic material used to prevent the buildup of biofouling. With the two Sofar buoys deployed off of Jennette’s Pier, setting up an experiment was simple. One buoy is ClearSignal coated, while the other is not. Researchers in the Dubbs lab at CSI and Peralta lab at East Carolina University will collect samples from the buoys for DNA analysis to better understand the variety of biofouling organisms local to North Carolina’s coast and how the communities on the two buoys differ. CSI will also compare the performance and operational maintenance time of the two buoys.

CSI aims to undertake research, offer educational opportunities, and provide community outreach, and great strides are being made to accomplish these goals with the addition of the Sofar Spotter buoys to its research infrastructure. The Spotter buoys not only encourage researchers to innovate, but also allow visitors and residents of the local community to see, learn from, and engage in CSI’s research. 

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