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Stay Clear of Scientific Buoys

Please stay at least 300 feet from the Biological Station's two new instrumented buoys in Flathead Lake to prevent entanglement of your fishing lines with the cable that goes from the surface of the buoy to the lake bottom and to avoid damaging this expensive equipment.


The Flathead Lake Biological Station (The University of Montana) at Yellow Bay has worked with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to develop 2 large buoys that will be placed in Flathead Lake this week. The 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. 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 10 the bottom of the lake. The meteorological sensors are mounted on the buoys. The buoys will be located at 2 places along the deep trench in the middle of the lake. One will be deployed west of Yellow Bay and the other west of Woods Bay.

These monitoring systems were originally designed for me in the Arctic Ocean by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute but have been modified for use in Flathead and Crater Lakes. Data generated from the surface meteorological sensors will be radio telemetered back to the Biological Station while water quality information from the automated subsurface profiler will be telemetered via satellite to Woods Hole and the Biological Station. All data will be available near real time 10 the public via the Station's website ( The meteorological station will measure and provide instantaneous wind speed, wind direction, barometric pressure, air temperature, solar radiation and humidity every 15 minutes. The subsurface automated profiler will travel down through the water column at least 4 times per 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. Video surveillance for security purposes will be present on both buoys.

Information from the buoys will give boaters, midlake weather conditions making it easier to plan open water travel. Fishermen will be particularly interested in temperature changes throughout the water column, allowing them to concentrate on fishing particular thermal regions. Federal, state, county and tribal agencies a. well as local schools will benefit from the wide array of water quality information for Flathead Lake while data generated from these 2 sites will provide scientists at the Biological Station better resolution of changing conditions in lake water quality and surface meteorology. Funding for the buoy-tethered profilers was provided by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Boaters are asked to stay at least 300 ft away from the buoys (about the length of a football field) so as not to disturb the measurements or destroy the sensitive equipment.

Information from these buoys is extremely important for conservation of Flathead Lake. We ask that every""" become a lake guardian and support our joint efforts in providing information that will keep Flathead Lake blue. Please contact the Biological Station if you have any questions or concerns (9&2-3301 daytime; 250-1006 or 250-0911 evening).


We are still working on setting up the website so that the public can access the data. The data is streaming in from both buoys, but we're still working out some of the bugs with a couple of the sensors. In the meantime, the public can access wind speed, direction, and air temperature from a couple of our weather stations that we operate on the east and west shores of the lake. Current conditions at those weather stations are shown right on our homepage ( On our weather page folks can also link to wave height predictions for the lake by the National Weather Service in Missoula.

This is the first deployment of an instrumented profiler for a rough lake like the Flathead, but so far so good. Although the view from our live webcam is pretty fuzzy, you can check it out as well.

We're so thankful that there hasn't been any vandalism but boaters are getting too close to the buoys. Those anglers that are trolling need to stay at least 300 feet away from the buoy (about the length of a football field), particularly if they are turning toward it in any way. Their fishing line could become entangled in the cable that extends from the surface to the bottom. Even sailboats need to stay far from the buoys to avoid collision, which would be damaging not only to the expensive equipment but to the boats and the occupants as well. The instrumented buoys weigh over 3,000 lbs.

But, we're glad they are interested and hope they keep a close eye on it for us. All recreationists can help by telling other boaters about the importance of the instrumented buoys in monitoring water quality and where they’re located. As you know, one is west of Yellow Bay and the other is west of Woods Bay. At night, a safety light blinks about every 4 seconds.

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