New buoy to provide real-time lake data

A new buoy in Indiana's Lake Michigan waters about 4 miles north of Michigan City will provide real-time data about everything from wave height to fish populations.

The buoy, which went into the water this month, is jointly owned and operated by Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Purdue University Department of Civil Engineering. It will operate from April 1 to Nov. 1.

The buoy is the first in Indiana waters, sitting just south of the line marking jurisdiction for Indiana and Michigan. Similar buoys are near Chicago and off the shores of St. Joseph and Holland, Mich.

John Taylor, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Northern Indiana office in Syracuse, Ind., said the buoy fills a void.

"There is very little data over Lake Michigan," Taylor said. "One was half way between Milwaukee and Holland, Mich. There was another one north of there. There is a lot of real estate out there and we really don't have many reports. This just helps us understand things better."

Taylor said the information on waves and winds could help forecast rip currents.

"The conditions on the shoreline are different than out in the lake," Taylor said. "It will help, I'm sure, for us in forecasting waves and other lake conditions."

Also using the buoy will be the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich., the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and researchers from Purdue.

They will use the data to improve weather forecasts, help the fishing community target particular species and better understand the lake's biological activity.

Carolyn Foley, research associate with the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant at Purdue University, agreed

"We hope that our buoy data can help make those models better, and, once we have a good set of models to work with, we would like to be able to show people the probability that something like, say, a rip current, will happen in the next six hours, based on what our buoy is measuring right now," she said.

The buoy will not immediately be used for E. coli levels measurements of the lake. Last beach season, Chicago eliminated beach closures all together, instead using data collected from buoys near shore to for E. coli levels. Chicago beachgoers can review the data online or via text and decide on their own if they will swim in the lake.

The new buoy near Michigan City is not measuring E. coli levels directly, but Foley said she believes it could provide other data to help predict bacteria in the water in the future.

"Some of the data that it does collect, like wave height and wind direction, could potentially be used as inputs for the models that beach managers use to predict E. coli levels, and any real-time data could potentially be fed into right now," Foley said.

"We are working to make those types of connections with researchers and some of our colleagues have already expressed interest in partnering with us to share data."

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