Wawasee Lake Buoy

Oh, buoy!

The Lilly Center’s usual lake sampling occurs on 14 local lakes once a week from June-August. It’s instrumental for our research! But what if there was a way to look at the lake between samplings, a way that could show us patterns that we may not have seen, otherwise?
During the summer of 2022, we’re implementing a solution. We’re using a lake buoy to get a “temporal profile” of Lake Wawasee as it changes over time. Seeing 24/7 data helps us identify trends, patterns or variables that could be correlated to blue-green algae blooms.

Who made it?

It’s a two-part project!
The buoy itself was made in collaboration with the Department of Engineering at Grace College. It was designed, manufactured and tested by a group of engineering students (pictured below) under the instruction of Dr. Fred Wentorf. Besides being a useful piece of scientific equipment for us, it also gave those students some real-world experience with the design process and some of the challenges that can occur in open-water environments!
The sensor array beneath the buoy (the part that gathers data) is a specialized piece of monitoring equipment similar to the one we use for our normal lake sampling. It measures parameters such as pH, temperature, and oxygen levels every hour. It also uses light to measure relative amounts of chlorophyll A and phycocyanin, which are both pigments present in blue-green algae. We’re grateful for the local supporter who generously funded this portion of the project!
This initial, 3D printed prototype is being used for testing purposes. The deployed version will have a flag and light on it for increased visibility, as well as signage.

How does it work?

The sensor collects and stores data every hour of every day.
The research team uses the hour-by-hour information to paint a more detailed picture about what is happening in Lake Wawasee, especially in the hours leading up to and during toxic blooms. We look at the buoy’s data alongside our normally-collected data and potentially see new trends.
If it’s successful, we may expand lake buoy monitoring to other locations or lakes! For now, this pilot project will remain only in Lake Wawasee.

We hope this doesn’t happen – and we rely on you to help us spread the word. If a boat hits the buoy, chances are either the buoy or sensor may be damaged. That will temporarily stop the continuous monitoring, leaving a gap in our data (and our hearts).

Not at all! The sensor is harmless to all aquatic life. It also isn’t interesting enough to nibble on – no bright colors and very little movement.

Unlike our stream sensors, the lake buoy data will be gathered and analyzed behind-the-scenes for now. That said, keep an eye out for the 2022 Beneath the Surface report in October! More information will be available in that publication.

Still curious?

While the research team will be the only ones to see the data from the buoy, we won’t be the only ones to see the microcystin levels this summer! Get signed up for our weekly microcystin updates today. You’ll receive an update every week from June-August.

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