There are few now who would disagree that climate change is having a huge impact on our planet, and some of the key indications of just how we will be affected is through the collection and analysis of marine data.

Across the world marine buoys are steadily collecting large amounts of vital information about our seas and oceans. This information has many practical uses. For example in the fishing industry or for offshore oil companies.

The data can also be used by all sea goers, from smaller recreational boats – or very large recreational boats – to those maintaining large fleets for cargo transportation or a naval fleet as a navigation aids. Although they often have many more uses.

The data collected can also be used to track changes in our oceans, and real time weather conditions, that will assist those planning a safe route but also when amalgamated over the course of time will show the impact of climate change, and is incredible useful to scientists and governments alike.

Vital for weather forecasts and oceanographic research

The application of the data collected by buoys is huge, even though the ocean is a vast place. Often deployed in remote areas, where very little information can otherwise be collected, they faithfully record data day in and day out for many different applications.

For example, in relation to weather prediction. Around the United Kingdom recent marine data is used by the Met Office, in conjunction with other data from satellites, to create meteorological models and forecasts for coming weather conditions.  Anyone who has ever sailed through the channel or in the North sea will be well aware of the shipping forecast, perhaps surprisingly also used by many on land and in the air as well as ships. Well much of this information would not be possible without collection of statistics by the buoys.

Drifting buoys can be used to predict hurricane or cyclone forecasts, when inserted into hotspots to measure temperature below the surface. This early warning can buy much needed time to get people to safety on the sea, and also prepare for when the storms will reach land, and mitigate some of the damage that could be caused – saving many lives in the process.

But it is not just climate predictions or global ocean disturbances, water temperature has a huge impact on fishing industries. Changes in temperature and ocean surface winds, can assist with locating different marine species, and in predicting how fish migration patterns might change. Being armed with this kind of information can mean the difference between success and failure for an industry already under huge pressure.

What types of measurements can be taken?

A huge variety of different pieces of information can be collected with the right recorders and sensors. Typically you would expect collection of wind speed and direction and atmospheric pressure. All vital for weather prediction and sailing alike. Buoys can also collect information on rainfall.

As previously mentioned, temperature is also a key factor in many things, and that will likely include air temperature, surface temperature and sub-surface temperature, which can differ dramatically.

Some buoys will also collect information about currents, for example for buoys that are adrift and also wave period and height.

As technology develops and forecasting models improve and become even more sophisticated, the instruments and measurements taken also develop. Collecting information about biogeochemistry elements, such as CO2, O2, pCO2 and sea surface salinity are also important. Not just for the study of the sea and marine life, but as indicators of pollution levels and the melting of polar ice – a key concern for those studying the effects of climate change.

With new telecommunications systems feeding the data in almost real time around the world, we are connected more than ever before to the key indicators of change in our oceans.

What about other uses for mariners?

Companies who use surface wind and ocean current information can more accurately predict journey times and progress of their ships. They can work out how fast a ship can travel under real time conditions and more accurately calculate an estimate arrival time.  While this has great implications for preparing for the arrival of cargo into port and subsequent conversation with the port authorities or harbour master, it also has huge implications for human safety as well.

By identifying if a ship is late or delayed legitimately, or is in fact overdue those onshore can raise the alarm earlier if there is a suspected problem, and help can be sent quicker. Anything that can prevent unnecessary loss of life in a dangerous environment is worth its weight in gold. Not only that, it makes commercial sense too for a ship to make it safely home.

Buoys are also, and perhaps more recognisably used to mark out areas of interest on the ocean surface. For example to indicate particular hazards under the water, such as a wreck, rocks or dangerous change in water depth. They are also often used mark out a maritime channel for safe navigation in busy shipping lanes, or on entering a port or harbour. Occasionally they will be fitted with a gong or bell for when visibility is low, and have a wide application in rivers and canals too.

You may also see mooring buoys, which are used for boats to be able to tie up to in open water, used in both marinas- where sometime the mooring can even be rented out to visiting recreational sailors, and out on the open sea. Not only used for mooring, they can be used for offshore prospecting platforms, fuel hose holders and to support weather stations. They are almost unsinkable due to a solid construction, and can withstand repeated, and inevitable collisions with passing ships without deforming.

Because buoys are made from a huge range of durable and specialist materials, they can withstand the harshest of elements in what can be the most difficult of environments and keep functioning – whether that is recording and transmitting vital information or providing safe passage through shipping lanes.