Solar-Powered IoT Buoy Blends STEM Education and Scientific Research

September 25th, 2018 by

An article titled “Solar-Powered IoT Buoy Blends STEM Education and Scientific Research” has been published by Tom Lombardo on, covering Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant’s Michigan City buoy on Lake Michigan. Using information supplied by our partners in Purdue University’s Lyles School of Civil Engineering and IISG Education Coordinator Terri Hallesy, Lombardo breaks down some of the technical aspects of the buoy and explains how we use buoy data in some of our STEM-based educational resources.


Buoy lovers donate to keep life-saving weather data afloat

July 5th, 2017 by

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) is proud to support two real-time monitoring buoys in southern Lake Michigan, one located just north of Michigan City, Indiana and the other near Wilmette Harbor, Illinois. Recently, users have started pitching in with donations to help keep the buoys afloat.

The buoy program started when a Purdue researcher pointed out that there were no real-time data being collected in Lake Michigan’s Indiana waters. A few years later, concerned citizens and sailors pointed to a similar need for the Illinois shoreline. Now, the two IISG buoys are filling information gaps for anglers, sailors, swimmers, and weather professionals who are interested in this part of the lake.

Over the years, buoy users have made phone calls, emails, and interactions through Twitter and Facebook to share that the buoys are valued and needed. We at Sea Grant have enjoyed hearing how our fans use buoy information. All told, lake enthusiasts are checking our real-time buoy data nearly 30,000 times per year!

Putting a buoy in the water, year after year, requires many things to happen. Weather conditions, equipment, people, and technical services have to come together perfectly to keep the buoys operational. This program would be impossible without sufficient funding.

Sea Grant’s buoy managers, Carolyn Foley and Jay Beugly, try to support the buoys with grants, but those funds can be hard to come by. When the unexpected happens, like a power-generating solar panel comes loose, or it takes three trips to remove a hook found tangled in wires at a depth of 30 feet, we burn through our funds pretty quickly.

IISG is constantly on the lookout for partnerships to help keep the buoys afloat, but you can also make a donation. The funds raised will go directly toward the buoy program, supporting data charges, travel costs, repairs, and upgrades. Already, folks are stepping up and donating to keep the buoys operational.

We love providing the buoy data as a service to everyone and helping families stay safe during these summer days. Please join your fellow buoy fans and consider donating today!​

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue University Extension.

Buoy temperature chain dances to the data

January 27th, 2017 by

Our Michigan City buoy has a lot of sensors on it, but none are quite so popular as the temperature chain.

Every 10 minutes, 17 loggers, all at different depths, record and transmit the average water temperature of the lake.

Using data collected in 2016, Purdue University School of Civil Engineering student David Cannon visualized what happened in the top 45 feet of Lake Michigan, 3.5 miles northwest of Michigan City, Indiana.

The results shows just how variable the nearshore water is: one day it can be warm all the way to the bottom, and a week later it can be very cold way up at the surface.

For more information on buoys, winds, waves, and how they affect water temperature in nearshore Lake Michigan, see Lake Michigan By the Numbers.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue Extension.

Buoys in the off-season: 6 things you need to know

November 2nd, 2016 by

The sun has set—literally, see above video—on another season for our Two Yellow Buoys anchored in Lake Michigan. Rest assured, they will be well-cared-for and back in action in the spring of 2017.

But if you can’t wait until next year to get your buoy fix, check #2YBHiatus on Twitter where there will be lots of data, discovery, and discussion!

1. The buoys are too delicate to withstand the Lake Michigan winter.
The main reason to take the buoys out is that the lake ices over in the winter and the delicate instruments that take measurements also need to be cleaned and maintained to be sure we can keep transmitting the best data possible.

2. It is much easier to retrieve the buoys at the end of the year than to put them out in the springtime.
You usually need one person to captain the boat and 4-5 people to help pull up the ballast weights and stop the buoy from bouncing against the boat. Although this year, the buoys were giving our scientists a little trouble. Don’t worry, though. Everyone is safe and sound on dry land!

3. The buoys are usually stored at the Purdue University West Lafayette campus in the civil engineering building.
Sometimes they are stored at LimnoTech’s headquarters, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The buoys tend to move around during the winter, especially if they need upgrades. So keep your eye out for buoys on trailers when you’re travelling down I-65 or I-94.

4. Every year scientists have to remove thousands of quagga mussels attached to the buoys.
Quagga mussel veligers—a mollusk larval stage—floating around Lake Michigan are always looking for hard structures to attach to. Though some of the surfaces on the buoys are smooth enough to stop the quaggas from attaching, they always manage to find their way into nooks and crannies. We carefully inspect the buoys before leaving the lakeside and remove anything we see, either manually or with help from a hose.

5. The buoys receive thorough maintenance.
The main hulls get washed off and all of the sensors are removed and cleaned. Depending on the sensor, this may mean an acid wash or just a good wipe down. One year, we had to replace a solar panel that had completely fallen off, so we’re always double-checking that everything is where it’s meant to be.

6. The buoys stop generating data, but all that’s been collected is ready and available online.
The IISG buoy data pages—dashboards and graphs—are not active when the buoys are not in the water. Historic data can always be found via the National Data Buoy Center (Michigan City 45170 , Wilmette 45174 ).

People who want to use the data should pay attention to notes like “Data have not been quality-checked.” Information marked with that tag may contain weird, fluke readings—like 100-foot waves! We try to do a quality check for the whole year of data within a few months of retrieving the buoy. People are also always welcome to email us to ask questions about the data.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue Extension.

Two Yellow Buoys sits for an interview with the Big Ten Network

September 6th, 2016 by

This story originally appeared on the Big Ten Network’s website,

Lake Michigan contains approximately six quadrillion gallons of water. Monitoring the weather and lake conditions isn’t just a big job, it’s a potentially dangerous one for humans.

Luckily, we have buoys for that. Specifically, number 45170 located off the coast of Michigan City, Indiana and 45174, located in the waters off Wilmette, Illinois. The two markers are run by the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program and staffed by researchers and specialists from Purdue University and the University of Illinois.

Not content to merely send real-time data about wind speed, lake temperatures and wave height to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to help fishermen and beachgoers alike determine the best day to hit the water, the two buoys also run their own Twitter account, @TwoYellowBuoys, where they send out information about the lake and photos.

Armed with a buoy-to-English dictionary,’s LiveBIG staff talked with the two buoys about conservation issues, their Big Ten loyalties and how they spend the off-season.

BTN LiveBIG: You spent the entire summer out on the lake. That sounds like a dream job.

Michigan City: Some days are definitely better than others, but if you don’t mind occasional rain and high winds it’s great.

Wilmette: And luckily we don’t get seasick!

BTN LiveBIG: What are you out there to do?

Michigan City: We’re weather buoys, so we’re covered in sensors that measure things like wind speed, wave height, and water temperature. We take readings all the time but what gets logged is either the average or the maximum of a given variable over the past 10 minutes.

Wilmette: Except [the] webcams.

Michigan City: Yeah, yeah, for those of us who have webcams, those images or videos are usually sent out once per hour.

BTN LiveBIG: So you don’t both have webcams?

Wilmette: Nope. I have one but Michigan City doesn’t.

Michigan City: But I have a chain of temperature sensors that runs from the surface to the bottom of the lake. Which is also pretty darn cool. Anglers love me because I help them determine when and where to fish different species, like salmon or perch.

BTN LiveBIG: How do people get access to your data?

Michigan City: Our data are transmitted to the main Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant website, NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center,, and the Great Lakes Observing System Data Portal. Other websites sometimes pick up a couple of variables here and there, and you can always email our handlers to get copies of old data.

BTN LiveBIG: Are you out on the lake all year? What happens in the winter?

Wilmette: Oh no. We’re tough, but not that tough.

Michigan City: In October or November, we get pulled in for the winter. People have to clean us off (quagga mussels REALLY like us), take care of our sensors and make repairs, sometimes make upgrades, whatever’s needed. It’s a nice vacation.

BTN LiveBIG: What was the most extreme weather pattern you’ve seen this year?

Wilmette: I’ve seen some crazy storms, but there was one on July 23 that hit me really hard. The day started [calm] like this. But by early evening winds and waves were building. Looking back, you can see the ride I took during the storm, and how much harder we were hit than our buds on the eastern side of the lake.

BTN LiveBIG: What’s the most important conservation issue facing the Great Lakes?

Michigan City: That depends on who you ask and where you are. A lot of people are worried about aquatic invasive species and habitat loss, mainly because they cause big changes in the system.

Wilmette: Don’t forget nutrients!

Michigan City: Yes, nutrients can exacerbate some issues, like the harmful algal blooms that happen in some parts of the Great Lakes. We actually have buddies over in Lake Erie who help monitor those.

BTN LiveBIG: Do you ever wish you could take a selfie?

Wilmette: First we’d need arms. We are pretty, though.

Michigan City: But not as pretty as Lake Michigan.

BTN LiveBIG: You’re a part of the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant program. For those that don’t know, what is that group’s purpose?

Michigan City: Well, Sea Grant is actually a network of 33 programs that extend from Alaska to Puerto Rico and Hawaii to Maine—even Guam! Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant focuses on using the latest science to help people in southern Lake Michigan and across the Great Lakes solve natural resource problems in sustainable ways.

Wilmette: So we’re basically rock stars, because we’re bringing the data that drives the science.

BTN LiveBIG: This is a joint effort with the University of Illinois and Purdue. How did that come about?

Michigan City: The partnership between the University of Illinois and Purdue University goes way back to the early 1980s. There’s a great story about it here.

Wilmette: And while our main squeezes are at Purdue and the U of I, we’re also supported by awesome people at NOAA, LimnoTech, Inc., the National Weather Service, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Great Lakes Observing System, and many local shop owners or users of our data.

BTN LiveBIG: Wilmette Buoy, do you tend to root for U of I? Are you a loyal Purdue fan, Michigan City?

Michigan City: I am a Boilermaker through and through.

Wilmette: It’s hard for me. Both Purdue and the U of I have done me good turns, but Northwestern is so close. I guess I’m a fair weather fan.

BTN LiveBIG: I see what you did there. What’s next for you? Do you think you’ll eventually work in an ocean or are you happy with the Great Lakes?

Wilmette: We’re made especially for the Great Lakes, so we’ll probably never see work in the ocean. But there are good buoys doing good work all over the world.

Thanks to Carolyn Foley, assistant research coordinator for the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, for speaking on behalf of her buoy colleagues. Remember, for updates and insights about life on Lake Michigan, follow @TwoYellowBuoys on Twitter. 

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue Extension.

Yeah buoy! #SciComm in the age of social media

August 28th, 2016 by

The first thing IISG Assistant Research Coordinator Carolyn Foley does each morning is feed her kids. Then, while toast is toasting or oatmeal is warming up, she checks the IISG real-time buoys.

“Jayson Beugly, Angela Archer, and I all monitor the buoys to make sure they’re transmitting OK,” Foley said. “But I also look for cool things that are being captured.”

Foley shares these “cool things” via the @TwoYellowBuoys Twitter feed that was conceived during a 2015 IISG staff meeting.


“Jay and I were sitting next to each other during a talk about engaging with social media,” Foley recalled. “He turned to me and said, ‘We should make a Twitter account for the buoys.’ And we both began to laugh.”

Carolyn admits she didn’t know much about Twitter before starting @TwoYellowBuoys, but it seemed like a great platform for communicating the graphs and images constantly generated by the buoys.

“I think visually, and my favorite part of writing scientific manuscripts is putting together graphs in order to tell a story. I hope that seeing how the data illustrate trends and phenomena helps people better understand how scientists use the data to answer complex questions,” said Foley.

“And it doesn’t hurt that looking at the webcam pictures reminds me why I do what I do, especially when I haven’t been able to get near the water lately.”

IISG owns and operates two nearshore buoys in Lake Michigan, one in Michigan City, Indiana and another in Willmette, Illinois. The weather buoys serve a variety of audiences, from the National Weather Service to recreational water users. Data from the buoys, including information on water temperature, wind speed, wave height, solar radiation, and more, is transmitted every 10 minutes.

Foley is especially partial to posting thermocline data on Twitter because she knows anglers make decisions based on  water temperature.

The buoy dashboards provide this data in both numerical and graphical form, and users can even access historic data. In addition, webcam images are captured every hour during daylight hours and shared online.

Using @TwoYellowBuoys, Foley has featured local and Lake Michigan-wide comparisons of water temperatures, air temperatures, wave heights, wind speeds, and more. She also pulls together images from the webcams atop the buoys to share with followers.


“It’s not up to us to predict what’s going to happen—the National Weather Service and others use the data for that purpose,” said Foley.

“But to be able to visualize what has happened and link it to real things that people have experienced, like storms or temperature shifts, is really fun and hopefully neat for people to see and understand.”

Carolyn Foley and Abigail Bobrow also contributed to the story. Joel Davenport created the illustrations.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue Extension.


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