Lake Erie Data at Your Fingertips–Instantly!

by Bob Heath

Are you heading out to Lake Erie to fish or swim, and want to know the condition of the lake right now? Better than “an app for that,” you can text your request and instantly receive a message from the data buoy itself. How cool is that?!

Ok, so here’s how it works. Sixteen solar-powered buoys are deployed on Lake Erie–from the far eastern stations off of Dunkirk, New York, to the westernmost buoy off of Monroe, Michigan. Each buoy contains at least two multiparameter data sondes (devices for testing physical conditions) that monitor water-quality variables such as water temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll as well as external variables such as air temperature, air pressure, wave height, wind speed and wind direction. Each buoy reports the conditions at the surface and at the bottom of the lake. In deeper waters, the buoys collect data at two-meter intervals from the surface of the lake to the bottom of the lake to anticipate the development and extent of “dead zones” in the bottom waters. Some buoys even have a camera onboard that takes real-time images that can be accessed online. These data are stored onboard in a data-logger and are downloaded at half-hour intervals to a central server at LimnoTech, a private environmental consulting firm in Ann Arbor, Michigan. To access the current data, text a buoy identification number to the server in Ann Arbor and, within seconds, the server texts you a message with the available information.

The buoy identification numbers for some buoys closest to Cleveland and the westernmost and easternmost buoys on Lake Erie are given below:

Solar-Powered Buoy

For a comprehensive view of all the locations, go to

As an example, I texted the server 734-418-7299, and then entered the number for the Cleveland intake crib, 45176. I received a text reply within seconds, notifying me that at “4:30 p.m. EDT the wind was coming from the northwest at 7.8 knots, with an air temperature of 74.8 F, water temperature of 75.7 F in waves of 1.0 feet.” In short, it was a great day on Lake Erie to go boating and fishing.

But wait-there’s more! More buoys, that is. A network of buoys spans the Great Lakes: 13 in Lake Superior, 21 in Lake Michigan, 9 in Lake Huron, 16 in Lake Erie and 9 in Lake Ontario. Another buoy is located in Lake Champlain near Burlington, Vermont, just south of Montreal, Ontario, Canada. The buoys cost about $50,000 each to deploy and are supported by both public agencies (e.g., NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, Environment Canada, and Ontario Ministry of the Environment), academic institutions (including State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, University of Minnesota, University of Toledo, Bowling Green State University, and Ohio State University) and as private companies (such as LimnoTech and LEEDCo [Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation]). The deployment of this network of buoys costs more than $3.5 million in equipment alone. Given the expense of monthly maintenance on each buoy, it is clear that more is at stake than the convenience of weekend boaters.

The buoy network provides the infrastructure needed to develop a “smart lake.” A smart lake is similar to a “smart city.” In a smart city, the workings of the municipality are controlled like an integrated system. Think of traffic flow being controlled to optimize the efficient flow rate of trucks and cars on a citywide basis. Or think of the electrical grid in a city being monitored and managed as a system for optimal stability and availability of energy for workers and residents. For a smart lake, think of managing the efficient flow of ship traffic through the Great Lakes system. Or think about monitoring and managing water quality for the 14 million people who depend on Lake Erie for their drinking water. While not yet a smart city, Cleveland could have a smart lake one day. The Cleveland Water Alliance (a consortium of academic, commercial, governmental, and nongovernmental organization stakeholders) is spearheading an effort to make Lake Erie a smart lake through innovative water technologies.

For more information about network of buoys, which is part of the Great Lakes Observing System, click here. To watch a video about the buoys  produced by Rock the Lake, click here.

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