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Smarter than average buoy

Will provide Severn boaters with real-time weather info

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer
The Capital, Published 11/12/09

Paul W. Gillespie — The Capital Doug Wilson, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows off a $120,000 buoy that will collect reams of weather and water quality data at the mouth of the Severn River. The buoy was supposed to be deployed yesterday afternoon, but the mission was delayed due to poor weather and rough water.

lIt only took a look out the window yesterday afternoon at the rainy, windy weather to tell it was not a good day to go out on the water.

Soon, boaters and sailors will be able to get more precise marine weather information with a few clicks on the Internet or by dialing into a special hotline.

A large yellow "smart" buoy is being deployed this week at the mouth of the Severn River. It will record data on weather and water quality, which will be posted in real time on the Internet.

The buoy was supposed to be deployed in the water yesterday afternoon, but 3- to 4-foot swells made the venture unsafe for the Coast Guard crew that planned to do it.

The buoy's data will help boaters "determine when it's a no-go," said Peyton Robertson, director of the Chesapeake Bay office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency responsible for the $120,000 buoy and six others like it.

The buoy collects reams of valuable data: barometric pressure, air temperature, chlorophyll A (algae), dissolved oxygen in the water, water current direction and velocity, relative humidity, wave height and direction, water conductivity, water salinity, water temperature, turbidity and wind direction and speed.

The data will be posted online at and on a special hotline, 1-877-BUOY-BAY. The hotline is voiced by John Page Williams, an Arnold resident who is a senior naturalist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

All that data is useful not only to boaters, but also to scientists and students, officials said during a launch ceremony for the buoy at Annapolis City Dock yesterday.

Capt. Robert Brennan, director of the NavalAcademy's Division of Math and Science, said midshipmen will use the data in their oceanography courses. Mids also can check the weather and water conditions before heading out to practice sailing or maneuvering yard patrol boats.

"This could not be more optimally placed," Brennan said.

The National Weather Service's meteorologist will also use the buoy's data in developing marine forecasts.

And scientists who research the health of the bay can use the real-time water quality information, such as oxygen and turbidity. They can get information instantly, without having to head out on the water to collect samples and take them to a lab.

The buoy isn't relegated only to scientific duty. The hotline and Web site share historical information about the Chesapeake Bay. That's because the buoys are the only tangible part of the Capt. John Smith National Historic Water Trail.

The trail was created to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Smith's famed travels around the bay. A settler at Jamestown, Smith was the first to accurately map the Chesapeake and its rivers.

Since the trail is on water, it exists mostly as thin dotted lines on maps. But the Annapolis buoy and six others in Maryland and Virginia serve as a physical and educational guide for those retracing Smith's travels while boating, sailing or paddling.

U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., is seeking $500,000 in federal funds to pay for five more buoys.

The first of the buoys in the system - called the Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System - was launched at Jamestown in 2007 during 400th anniversary celebrations.

But as more have been added over the past two years, there have been a few problems.

A buoy in the Patapsco River off of Pasadena was shot by vandals and later was hit by a boat or ship.

Doug Wilson, a NOAA oceanographer, said although the mouth of the Severn is a busy boating area, he expects boaters to be courteous and respect the buoy.

"I don't think it will be too bad here," he said.

(Revised October 2009)