NOAA collects marine observations to help monitor, forecast and research changes in weather, climate, the ocean and the coasts. Measurements are gathered using 1,300 weather observing stations — the world’s largest real-time marine observation network — located throughout the Pacific and Atlantic ocean basins and along the coasts. The network includes moored ocean buoys, fixed coastal stations and mobile observing platforms.
NOAA’s 200 moored buoys operate in a harsh environment, subjected to powerful ocean currents, fluctuating strong winds, surging waves, sea salt, the sun’s ultraviolet rays, cold temperatures and even vandalism.
The National Data Buoy Center is a division of the National Weather Service and its mission is to ensure the nation’s maritime safety. Buoy observations improve the safety and efficiency of marine transportation. Many industries rely on NOAA’s marine forecasts and real-time buoy observations to monitor current conditions when planning travel or performing work. NOAA’s continuous flow of ocean, weather and wave information is vital to fishermen, cargo ship captains, the U.S. Coast Guard, underwater operations, offshore drilling platform managers, surfers and coastal communities. In addition, scientists use buoy observations to conduct climate change research to understand how our weather patterns are changing.
Specially trained technicians from the National Data Buoy Center travel to remote areas in the ocean to service and deploy buoys. Deploying a buoy can take 12-16 hours. When technicians aren’t deploying a buoy, they are assembling new buoys, installing sensors or pressure washing old hulls and getting the next set of buoys ready as the vessel steams to the next buoy. They also retrieve drifting NOAA weather buoys and restore them. This cycle continues for weeks until they reach their port of call, then they restock and start all over again.
The hull was recovered and will be repaired then returned to the array. A new buoy, deployed in the same location, took technicians 10 hours to restore to operational status.
NOAA moors its buoys with custom made cast iron anchors and heavy nylon. To reach the seafloor, the nylon length may be 3 miles long. Moored buoys are a cost-effective means for obtaining meteorological and oceanographic data from remote areas in the ocean.
In May, NOAA will service nine weather buoys along the U.S. West Coast beginning in San Diego, California, and ending near Seattle, Washington. During the summer, buoy technicians will sail to the deep ocean along the Aleutian Island chain then south to Guam to service NOAA’s DART buoy network, which plays a critical role in tsunami forecasting. For updates on the mission, visit the NDBC Facebook page.