Uses of Buoy Data


What are the buoys used for?

There are numerous applications for buoy data, which complement data collected through other means such as satellites:

  • Weather forecasts. Meteorological models routinely assimilate observational data, under the World Weather Watch, from various sources including satellites, weather balloons, land stations, floats, ships, and data buoys. Most of the models are global and assimilate observational data from all sources to generate national forecasts.
    Buoy data are crucial because deployed in data sparse ocean area where no other source of valuable data are available.
    • Marine forecasting. Buoy data are critical for producing improved marine forecasts.
  • Hurricane or Cyclone forecasts can be improved by placing drifting buoys (with sub surface temperature measurements) into hotspots
  • Seasonal Forecasting. Using data buoys and other instruments such as sub-surface floats, many advanced oceanographic models now can be used to predict global or regional events and other ocean disturbances.
  • Safety at sea. Several nations have successfully used surface wind and ocean current information from the buoys to help locate missing or overdue boats.
  • Assistance to fisheries. Sea surface temperature is an important tool to find many different species of fish. The buoys provide this information to weather centres daily. These centres, in turn, produce charts of sea surface temperature and distribute them to assist and also control fishing activity.
  • Environmental observations required in support of meteorological and oceanographic services and research are discussed in relevant WMO and IOC publications.
  • Satellite Calbration/Validation ...

Near-real time and Archived data

Climate prediction, meteorological and oceanographic research. For example, researchers use the data from the equatorial Pacific moorings (TAO) to predict future changes in the world's climate, such as the El Niño / Southern Oscillation phenomenon. El Niño events involve disruptions in the ocean surface winds and the upper ocean temperature pattern. These disruptions lead to seasonal climate variations and changes in fish migration patterns throughout the world ocean.

The requirements for monitoring changes in climate have been specified by the Ocean Observations Panel for Climate (of GOOS/GCOS/WCRP), within the context of the Climate Module of the WMO-IOC-UNEP-ICSU Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) and the related Global Climate Observing System (GCOS).

Assessments and Impact Studies

  • Studies are performed to demonstrate the impact of buoy data on the global observing system. Details of past studies are here.
  • Each month, charts of GTS data and Marsden square distribution are produced by Meteo France, to assess the spread and impact of GTS data from buoys and other in-situ platforms (.ps files).
  • Global Change Master Directory

How many buoys are needed?

Map of ideal 500 x 500 km dispersionThe scientific design for the global surface drifting buoy array originally called for 1250 buoys to be maintained worldwide in order to calibrate Sea Surface Temperature satellite data. One buoy was necessary, approximately every 500 kilometres over the entire global ocean to calibrate and validate existing and new satellites. 1250 buoys was adopted by the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) as the aim for the buoy network, with publication of the Scientific Design for the Common Module of the GOOS and the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) in 1995. It was essentially a balance of the requirements defined by GCOS and Numerical Weather Prediction applications.

Other resources

ISDM (Canada) Scientific Data and Products.

NOAA/AOML (USA): Data assembly center | Poster

Products bulletin: Products and services

WMO requirements documents:

Measurements being taken today

The variables measured by the data buoys generally include one or more of the following elements:

  • Atmospheric pressure (and tendency),
  • Wind speed and direction,
  • Air temperature,
  • Sea-surface and sub-surface temperature,
  • Sea-surface and sub-surface salinity,
  • Rainfall
  • Wave period and height (and wave spectra)
  • Relative Humidity. (Moorings only)
  • Down-welling Radiation. (Moorings only)
  • Currents from buoys
    • can be derived from drifting buoy locations, provided that the buoy is drogued
    • can be measured with Doppler Current meter or Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers
  • Other Biogeochemistry elements (CO2, O2, Fluorescence etc)

New Sensors

The constant evolution and improvement of forecasting, especially with the use of satellite data, means that data buoy instruments and the measurements taken also need to evolve. Recently, tests have been undertaken or are planned using drifting buoys for measurements such as:

  • Carbon (pCO2)
  • Sea Surface Salinity
  • Waves (2-dimensional wave spectra)
  • Very High Resolution Sea Surface Temperature
  • Deep ocean time series (Multi-disciplinary moorings)

The testing and addition of such sensors is due, in part, to information requirements of science and a need to understand the composition of the ocean ad its interaction with the atmosphere more, and in part to telecommunications systems now allowing more data to be sent in real-time.