Buoys to monitor water quality, weather

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A Flathead Lake buoy gets tested at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Two large instrumented buoys are being placed in Flathead Lake this week to monitor water quality and weather on the lake.

The buoys were developed by the University of Montana's Flathead Lake Biological Station and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

These buoys provide a platform for a suite of instruments that allow continuous automated measurements of water quality and meteorological conditions, according to a news release from the University of Montana.

Researchers planned to install the buoys at two places along the deep trench in the middle of the lake - one west of Yellow Bay and the other west of Woods Bay. Conditions in the water column are measured by sensors on a device called a profiler that travels up and down a cable from the buoy to the bottom of the lake. The meteorological sensors are mounted on the buoys.

Woods Hole originally designed the monitoring systems for the Arctic Ocean, but, together with the biological station, modified them for Flathead and Crater lakes. A grant from the National Science Foundation provided funding for the buoy-tethered profiling systems.

The data will provide scientists at the biological station better information about changing conditions in the lake's water quality and surface meteorology.

Data generated from the surface meteorological sensors will be radio-telemetered back to the station while water quality information from the automated subsurface profiler will be sent via satellite to Woods Hole and the Flathead Lake station.

All data will be available to the public, in near real time, at http://umt.edu/flbs.

The meteorological stations will measure wind speed, wind direction, barometric pressure, air temperature, solar radiation and humidity every five minutes.

The subsurface automated profiler will travel down through the water column at least four times a day. Sensors will measure water temperature, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, algal pigments, light and dissolved organic matter every 25 centimeters as the profiler travels from the surface to the bottom of the lake.

Boaters planning open-water travel can get midlake weather conditions collected by the meteorological sensors on the buoys.

Fishermen will have access to temperature changes throughout the water column, allowing them to concentrate on fishing particular thermal regions. Federal, state, county and tribal agencies, as well as local schools, will be able to use the wide array of water quality information.

Boaters are asked to stay at least 50 yards away from the buoys so the equipment isn't disturbed. Video surveillance for security purposes will be present on both buoys.

Information from the instrumentation on the buoys is important for conservation of Flathead Lake, and Flathead Lake Biological Station officials ask that everyone become a lake guardian and support efforts that provide information to keep Flathead Lake blue.

For more information call the station during the day at 406-982-3301 or in the evening at 406-250-1006 or 406-250-0911.

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