Real-time data monitoring buoys a first for Great Lakes

wdr buoys great lakes

Real-time data on toxicity and dissolved oxygen levels in the Great Lakes will soon be available.

The Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, led by Jill Crossman, has established buoys in Lake Erie to measure nutrient levels and report them back via cellular network. It’s a first for the Great Lakes.

“The buoys are equipped with real-time sensors, so it takes the data and analyzes it and pings the data back,” said Crossman. “I can text the buoys and ask them how they’re doing or what the phosphorous concentration is right now.”

The buoys are based at Sturgeon Creek in Leamington, Ont. and along the shoreline of Pigeon Bay in Lake Erie. They will stay in place until early November and will then be moved to a different tributary to collect more data. 

“So far, so good,” said Crossman. “There’s been some minor hiccups — one of them got buried in a flood event.”

The buoys are also monitoring nitrogen, light and temperature. 

“The data we’re collecting is going into a central system which is sort of a collaboration with the U.S. and other organizations,” said Crossman.

Algal blooms were a concern in the 1970s and have begun to cause concern again. The blooms have caused drinking water advisories in the past.

The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured these images of algal blooms around the Great Lakes in 2015. The bloom is visible in Lake St. Clair, left, and Lake Erie, right. (NASA)

“The idea is we’ll have a much more comprehensive look at what’s driving these algal blooms,” said Crossman.

The monitors are the first of their kind — previously a larger version could only be installed on the shoreline, rather than directly in the water. 

“They’re the only ones in the world able to give you an actual total phosphorous concentration,” said Crossman.

Ground samples are taken back to the lab and monitored, which affects readings for soluble reactive phosphorous and other nutrients. 

“It changes so quickly over time,” said Crossman. “So it’s really important to analyze things like that in real-time so you have that data.”

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