Spotters in Lake Winnipesaukee with NERACOOS to improve the National Weather Service forecasts

The motivation for just about everything the Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems (NERACOOS) does is quite simple: if the people who rely on ocean observing data have a problem, NERACOOS and their network of partners will try to fix it. Last month, NERACOOS got a chance to help the National Weather Service (NWS), one of the biggest users of ocean observing data, tackle a unique issue, thanks to the assistance of Oceanographer Tom Lippmann from the University of New Hampshire’s Department of Earth Sciences and officers with the New Hampshire State Police Marine Patrol.

The effort to solve NWS’s conundrum led NERACOOS into completely uncharted territory: fresh water. Staff member Julianna Mullen traveled with Lippmann to Lake Winnipesaukee, the largest lake in New Hampshire, to deploy two Sofar Spotter buoys. Spotters are much smaller than NERACOOS’s typical meteorological ocean moorings, which can be more than three meters tall and weigh 900 kilograms. The smaller dimensions of the Spotter buoys allow them to detect the high-frequency wind waves (with wave periods of 1-3 seconds) generated over the Lake with amplitudes ranging 10 centimeters to over a meter.

The Spotter buoys were part of NERACOOS’s solution to the NWS’s problem, which was this: the models powering their forecasts for maximum lake wave height during storm events were not lining up with visual observations. Reconciling NWS’s forecasts with actual conditions on the water required more observational data to feed into their models; when deployed in areas likely to experience significant waves, the data from Spotter buoys could be used to help fill the gaps. 

Winnipesaukee Marine Patrol Sergeant Brian Starck and Officer John Curran took Julianna, Dr. Lippmann, and Hendricus Lulofs, NWS Meteorologist In Charge at the Gray, Maine office, to the southern end of the lake to place the Spotters, a process so simple compared to the deployment of meteorological ocean moorings, it was nearly comical. Initially the buoys are in place for a six-week trial period, after which Dr. Lippmann will process the data for use in NWS’s models. 

This buoy deployment is a story about the importance of collaboration, but it’s also a story about the incredible advances in ocean (and freshwater) observing technology over the years, not only in terms of capability but also in terms of price. Although they don't have all the bells and whistles of a full meteorological mooring, the Spotters used on Winnipesaukee are comparatively very affordable and can fit and be deployed in places that a larger buoy couldn't.

While the Lake Winnipesaukee effort is a pilot project and there currently aren’t plans to make the observing data publicly available, giving users a helping hand is the NERACOOS prime directive; efforts like this are a testament to the importance and value of strong partnerships, and an example of technological innovation in motion.

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