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Sensors for Lake Erie Smart Buoy Network to Get Tune-up for Algal Bloom Season

It’s almost time to deploy the high-tech buoys that float 24-7 in all weather conditions throughout Lake Erie during the spring, summer and fall to monitor water quality and help us understand and protect our freshwater resources.

Each smart buoy carries a solar-powered sensor that provides real-time data measurements remotely accessible to scientists, regional water utility managers and the general public — including fishermen and boaters — to help track toxic algal blooms and water conditions.

But before sending the buoys out for the season to bob in the open waters as floating laboratories, water-quality experts across the region need to synchronize the sensors that are a key part of Lake Erie’s early-warning system.

Scientists and water treatment plant operators throughout the region are visiting The University of Toledo Lake Erie Center in Oregon this week to make sure equipment that measures water quality throughout algal bloom season is ready to be deployed in buoys and treatment plants across Lake Erie.

Since the calibration event started in 2015, the collaboration helps to ensure conformity of data coming from the probes over the next few months.

Media are invited 11 a.m. Wednesday, April 5, as partners in the early-warning buoy network do the calibration. Partners include researchers from UToledo, Ohio State University and Bowling Green State University, as well as water treatment plant operators in Cleveland, Toledo, Oregon, Defiance, Elyria, Avon, Painesville, Sandusky, Lorain, Ottawa and Huron.

LimnoTech and YSI are companies providing technology support.

The buoys are equipped with what is called the YSI EXO sonde, a yellow and blue instrument consisting of several probes to measure various water quality parameters, including how much blue-green algae are present, water temperature, clarity, oxygen levels, turbidity and pH.

“These buoy and sensors are the first line of defense against harmful algal blooms,” said Dr. Thomas Bridgeman, a professor of ecology and director of the UToledo Lake Erie Center. “Real-time data coming from buoys spread across western Lake Erie is used to map the growth and movement of blooms as they approach water treatment plants, giving water plant operators ample time to respond.”

Bridgeman’s laboratory is one of the key locations for tracking and providing early warning of harmful algal blooms in the western basin of Lake Erie.

UToledo’s water quality and sensor buoy annually rides the waves off the shore of the Maumee Bay State Park Lodge and Conference Center in Oregon. It is part of the Great Lakes Observing System’s early-warning network of buoys throughout the western Lake Erie basin that provides live data vital in the assessment of harmful algal blooms.

A UToledo alumnus who now works for Ann Arbor-based LimnoTech as an environmental scientist is organizing the calibration event. Ken Gibbons graduated from UToledo in 2015 with a master’s degree in biology.

”The sonde calibration event started when I was a graduate student at UToledo, and I’m excited to be still involved,” Gibbons said. “In addition to calibrating the sondes, this event teaches participants how to clean and maintain the sonde, which can help them if they encounter any issues during the bloom season.”

This year the calibration event is expanding to also include a Cleveland location on Wednesday, April 26, at the Cleveland State University MakerSpace, located at 2121 Euclid Ave.

“Having two events is helping us expand our footprint and make it easier for in-person participation,” Gibbons said. “We have people from as far west as Defiance and as far east as Ashtabula. We also have a participant coming up from the Columbus area.”

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