Meet 5 NOAA buoys that help scientists understand our weather, climate and ocean health

Keeping track of ocean health is critical for understanding climate change, weather patterns, and the health of important fisheries. But how do NOAA and partner scientists gather data on such a vast environment? 

One big way is with buoys, ocean observing platforms that help scientists monitor the global ocean — including in remote, hard-to-reach areas. Some of these buoys float along the ocean surface, gathering data as they drift with currents (sometimes even into the paths of hurricanes!). Some, meanwhile, are moored to the ocean floor, collecting data in the same region and helping scientists observe changes over several years or decades. In honor of Ocean Month, we’re highlighting five buoys that help NOAA scientists monitor and understand the ocean (and the Great Lakes, too!).

Keeping tabs on ocean acidification with the MAPCO2 buoy

MAPCO2 Buoy

MAPCO2 BUOY – The MAPCO2 buoy floats at Cheeca Rocks.

The ocean absorbs about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide (CO2) that is released in the atmosphere, and as that CO2 is absorbed, it changes the pH of the ocean. Ocean acidification poses a big risk to marine life — as waters become more acidic, corals have a harder time building their skeletons, oysters and other shellfish have a harder time building their shells, and fish can experience worrisome behavioral changes.

Moored Autonomous pCO2 (MAPCO2) buoys help scientists understand ocean acidification. There are currently 50 of these buoys worldwide, each of which is deployed either over a coral reef, in the open ocean, or in a coastal region. These buoys gather long-term data on carbon dioxide in the ocean, allowing scientists to track how ocean acidification is progressing in different regions.

One of these buoys is deployed at Cheeca Rocks, a coral reef within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off of Islamorada, Florida  Scientists chose Cheeca Rocks because of its important coral habitat, which has managed to stay relatively healthy compared to reefs farther offshore. Scientists have been studying why these inshore patch reefs like Cheeca Rocks have been more resilient to environmental stressors, including coral disease, coral bleaching, and overfishing — and the MAPCO2 buoy helps in that effort. This buoy measures the partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) in seawater, temperature, salinity, and pH every three hours. The data is open and available to the public.

NOAA Research News, 2 June 2021. Full article.

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