May 26, 2018
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UMaine, research institute to share nearly $1.8M for weather buoys

By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

ELLSWORTH, Maine — Funding has been hard to come by in recent years for offshore weather buoys in the Gulf of Maine, but two Maine organizations will be among several sharing nearly $1.8 million in federal funds to help keep the system operating.

Mariners have credited the network of buoys that provides ocean weather data with helping to save lives and money by alerting them to treacherous ocean conditions when they had been planning to head out on the water.

The Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems, which now includes the buoys that have been part of the Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System, recently won a competitive funding award of $1.77 million from the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NERACOOS officials announced Tuesday.

Some of the money, which represents the first year of funding for a five-year period, will be going to University of Maine and Gulf of Maine Research Institute for maintaining the buoys and for managing and making available to the public the data the buoys generate.

How much money NERACOOS will get for the next four years has not been determined. Other organizations that will get portions of the $1.77 million are University of New Hampshire, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, University of Rhode Island, University of Connecticut, and Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Nova Scotia. The NERACOOS system consists of dozens of data collection sites from Nova Scotia waters to Long Island Sound.

The GoMOOS system used to consist of 11 buoys spread out in the Gulf of Maine, but now consists of seven, including buoys near Cape Ann in Massachusetts, Mount Desert Rock and in the Northeast Channel, off the southwest tip of Nova Scotia. Data from the buoys are posted live on the Internet and have been used by mariners such as commercial fishermen, cargo ships, the Coast Guard and recreational boaters to determine weather conditions in the gulf.

The continued operation of the buoys is expected to help provide data to other people who are eyeing potential commercial marine activities such as offshore wind farms or tidal power projects, according to officials.

Zdenka Willis, director of the nationwide U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System, said Tuesday in a prepared statement that continued operation of the data collection system will have widespread benefits.

“We are delighted that this funding to NERACOOS will allow us to expand upon our mission of increasing the understanding of our coastal waters, so that decision makers can take action to improve safety, enhance the economy, and protect the environment,” Willis said.

GMRI, which in late 2009 took over the information management, processing and distribution duties of the GoMOOS data system, is getting $75,000 over the next 12 months as part of the overall $1.77 million NOAA award to NERACOOS, according to Riley Young Morse, program manager for ocean data products for GMRI.

Morse said Tuesday that the money is not a lot, compared to past funding grants for the GoMOOS buoys, but that it is good that NERACOOS was chosen for the funding over other bidders.

“It is a smaller amount,” Morse said. “It continues to be a struggle to maintain funding [for the buoys], but we want to make sure the services are still available to the users.”

It was unclear Wednesday morning how much of the $1.77 million will go to the University of Maine, which maintains the seven GoMOOS buoys and uses the data they collect for oceanographic research. Attempts Tuesday and Wednesday to contact Dr. Neal Pettigrew, UMaine’s chief scientist for the program, were unsuccessful.

Dr. J. Ru Morrison, executive director for NERACOOS, said Tuesday that it is important to keep the original GoMOOS buoy sites operating because some have been generating data now for more than 10 years. The data generated over such a period is invaluable to scientists who study changes and trends in ocean conditions, he said.

Morrison said that, though NOAA has not decided how much money NERACOOS will get for the buoy system over each of the next four years, he is confident that the system will continue to get much needed federal funding.

“We will be able to maintain the [buoys] we have in the water right now,” Morrison said. “The budget seems to look encouraging for next year as well.”

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter (@billtrotter) on Twitter.

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