Flathead Lake buoy being tested by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution scientists. (Photo courtesy of WHOI)

Aug. 9, 2011


Two large instrumented buoys, developed in tandem by The University of Montana's Flathead Lake Biological Station and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, will be placed in Flathead Lake on Wednesday, Aug. 10. These buoys provide a platform for a suite of instruments that allow continuous, automated measurements of water quality in the water column and meteorological conditions on the lake.

Researchers will 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.

WHOI originally designed the monitoring systems for use in the Arctic Ocean, but, together with FLBS, they modified them for use in Flathead and Crater lakes. A grant from the EPSCoR program of the National Science Foundation to the FLBS provided funding for the buoy-tethered profiling systems.

The data will provide scientists at FLBS better information about the 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 FLBS while water quality information from the automated subsurface profiler will be telemetered via satellite to WHOI and the FLBS. All data will be available, in near real-time, to the public at

The meteorological stations will measure and report instantaneous 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 access mid-lake 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 as not to disturb the measurements or destroy the sensitive equipment. Video surveillance for security purposes will be present on both buoys.

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

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

Contact: Bonnie Ellis, research assistant professor, UM Flathead Lake Biological Station, 406-982-3301 ext. 239,