Next-generation real-time oceanographic instrumentation

This article originally appeared March 8, 2021 on the United States Geological Survey website.

Research Oceanographer Dr. Mark Buckley unboxed new equipment – a Sofar Smart Mooring and Spotter Buoy – that will be used to deliver high-fidelity, real-time wave, water level, and wind data.

This information will be used to assess the skill of the USGS/NOAA Total Water Level and Coastal Change Forecast, which provides real-time forecasts of water levels and coastal change along nearly 3,000 miles of the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic coasts. The instrument is a compact and portable version of the large oceanographic buoys. The small size makes it easier to deploy and much more cost-effective. Buckley and his team plan to test the solar-powered device at the SPCMSC field site at Madeira Beach, FL, and will be able to relocate it as needed. Once deployed, the device will provide data in real-time so scientists at SPCMSC can quickly validate and continue improving total water level forecasts, which are critically important during storms.

Dr. Mark Buckley of the USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center holds a new Sofar Smart Mooring and Spotter Buoy that will be used to deliver high-fidelity, real-time wave, water level, and wind data. These data will be used to validate and improve the USGS/NOAA Total Water Level and Coastal Change Forecast, which provides real-time forecasts of water levels and coastal change along nearly 3,000 miles of the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic coasts. (Credit: Meaghan Faletti, USGS. Public domain.)

Sofar introduced cell phone technology to miniaturize wave buoys. These buoys use GPS to track buoy displacement as waves pass by. From this displacement, wave height, direction, and period are calculated. The displacement data can even be used to estimate wind speed and direction based on the known relationship between the growth of high frequency waves and wind speed. These data are sent back to researchers in real-time using satellite communication. The combination of solar power and satellite communication means these buoys can be deployed anywhere for extended durations. Sofar recently introduced “smart moorings,” which link the wave buoy and its communication system to a pressure sensor mounted on the sea floor. Whereas researchers would normally deploy pressure sensors for several months before retrieving and downloading the data, the data are also now available in real-time. The sea floor pressure measurements are used to calculate water level, which includes contributions from waves, tides, and storm surge. 


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