A story from the field: Shelby Brunner and Buoy 45014

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Buoy 45014 sits, in pieces, aboard the R/V Neeskay, a 71-foot research vessel. The yellow, fiberglass hull can be seen at the top of the image. To the bottom-left of the hull is the mooring equipment: a concrete anchor block, cable, chain and white, subsurface floats. In the lower left are the solar panels and meteorological sensor package that, when deployed, sit on top of the hull. Photo by Brice Grunert.

By Shelby Brunner, GLOS Observing Technology Manager

Every Lake has a story, and observing platforms, such as buoys and gliders, are the storytellers. This is a brief (and true!) story about one of my favorite storytellers—the Southern Green Bay buoy, also known as Buoy 45014.

The Green Bay buoy may not be the fanciest or most popular observing platform on the Great Lakes, but it has logged many years of reliable service, and I was lucky enough to be there when it got its start.

In 2011, I was a first-year graduate student at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s (UWM) School of Freshwater Sciences when two yellow hulls, two meteorological stations, and two sets of sub-surface sensors were delivered. At the time, there was a small team of people—principal investigators, lab technicians, ship crew, and graduate students—eager to put the parts together and get them tested, both on land and in the water. Everyone’s initial reaction could probably best be described as “kids on Christmas morning.”

We deployed one at a popular Milwaukee beach (Atwater Buoy 45013) and headed to Green Bay to deploy the other. On the first deployment of South Green Bay 45014, we had all wished her luck at her new home, known as Station GB17, before pushing the concrete anchors over the back of the ship and securing her in place for the next month.

One of the stories the buoy has been able to tell throughout the years is of a midsummer water column mixing event that happened after a large storm. During the event, the layers of water, previously “arranged” by temperature, were combined, creating a uniform temperature throughout the water column. Fishing wasn’t as good as a result, but oxygen, critical for the health of fish, was reintroduced down low in the column.

For me, the Green Bay buoy provided first-hand experience with deploying and maintaining a long-term asset. It also provided the data for my first-ever peer reviewed publication (which is a pretty big deal for a graduate student).

Today, the Green Bay buoy still provides some of the only real-time data for the area, which is critical for recreational boaters, anglers, and the shipping industry. UWM, with GLOS support, has successfully maintained it and Buoy 45013 ever since, despite several changes in technicians, protocols, and funding sources. This success is in large part due to strong commitment from the principal investigators and dedicated technical staff documenting best practices and operating procedures. The result? Nearly a decade of Lake Michigan’s story captured by one more sentinel storyteller.

When they’re back in the water next spring, you can see 45014 and 45013 at glbuoys.glos.org.

Shelby Brunner is the observing technology manager at the Great Lakes Observing System. Learn more about her here.

Two divers inspect the buoy’s temperature string and chain linking the buoy to a concrete block anchor. Photo by Brice Grunert.

45014 floats near its white and orange marker buoy. This provides more visibility to the buoy and aids in recovery efforts. Photo by Brice Grunert.

Over time “biofouling” occurs on sondes attached to the buoy. Debris, algae, and mussels cling to the sensors and must be cleaned regularly to maintain data quality. Photo by Brice Grunert.

Jessica Grow, a researcher and marine technician at UWM, poses with Buoy 45014 after a successful recovery.

Crewmember Craig Cornelius (left) and Ryan Becker of UWM pose after recovering Buoy 45014. Photo by Jessica Grow.