Buoys returning to the Great Lakes

Posted by: GLOS_Admin April 17, 2019

Buoy being launched Environmental Data Buoy near Cook Nuclear Plant

(Left) Buoys have different equipment depending on the owner’s data needs. They relay data about wind speed and direction, water temperature and sometimes come equipped with cameras to periodically send short video clips back to shore.

(Right) A crew from LimnoTech deploys a buoy outside the Cook Nuclear Plant near Bridgeman, Mich.

Photos by E. Verhamme, LimnoTech

When ice goes away, the buoys will play.

All over the Great Lakes, buoy operators are getting ready to put their floating data generators back out in the water. And that means lake lovers will soon have access to real-time data for use in research, planning, water safety and recreation.

For boaters, anglers and others throughout the region, this means going out on the water better informed about potentially dangerous conditions. And for those in research, this means getting real-time data that will enrich their findings and can feed computer models predicting weather events and lake phenomena.

Kelli Paige is the executive director of Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS), a nonprofit that makes the buoy data available online. “We exist to be that connection point between lake data and people who need it,” she says. “It’s always interesting to see the uses people have for the data, whether it’s for their research, or navigation or even for finding fish.”

The GLOS Great Lakes Buoys site ( provides real-time data from over 30 buoys in each of the five Great Lakes.

Buoys start going back in the water as soon as harbors and boat launches are ice-free. This occurs in southern Lake Michigan and Lake Erie in April and northern Lake Michigan and Lake Superior in May.

At Ann Arbor-based engineering firm LimnoTech, engineers are taking to the water towing the yellow, cone-shaped buoys into position. The firm deploys buoys in the early season around Waukegan, Wilmette and Winthrop Ill.; Michigan City, Ind., and Bridgeman, South Haven and Port Sheldon, Mich.

Scientists from NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) and the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research, also located in Ann Arbor, are also getting ready to deploy their own fleet of buoys. GLERL researcher Steve Ruberg says that the data from these is used to validate modeling and forecasting research for the lab and the National Weather Service. But those aren’t the only uses. “Folks who sail or surf really value these real-time systems as well as people pursuing certain early season fish species such as steelhead and brown trout,” he says.

Roughly a dozen research institutions operate buoys throughout the Great Lakes, and many of them make data available through GLOS.

Ed Verhamme, an engineer at LimnoTech, says that springtime can be a particularly hazardous season. “Many early season boaters/fishermen rely on observations from the buoys because conditions are rougher in the spring and they can change very fast,” he says. “Boaters need to be extra careful about venturing out on the water this time of year.”

Once in the water, buoys will transmit data viewable at and by text, by messaging the buoy ID number to 866-218-9973. The service is free to use, but text message fees may apply.