Bandit the Runaway Wave Buoy Back in Service

A popular, yet troublesome, ocean monitoring buoy went back in service this spring in southern peninsula waters after being out of service for a year and a half.

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The Lower Cook Inlet Wave Buoy is loved and used by many, when it decides to stay in once place.

“This buoy is affectionately nicknamed Bandit because it’s come off its tether multiple times in the past couple years,” says Darcy Dugan, program manager with the Alaska Ocean Observing System. “Two summers in a row it came off its chain for reasons we weren’t able to completely pin down, but we’re guessing the strong tidal current was one of those reasons. Most recently, we ended up having to take it off its tether because it started to malfunction and we had to get it fixed and take it back out. So, we’ve got our fingers crossed that this time it’ll stay out there.”

Angie Doroff of the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve and Kris Holderied of NOAA's Kasitsna Bay Laboratory with Bandit the Buoy
Angie Doroff of the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve and Kris Holderied of NOAA’s Kasitsna Bay Laboratory with Bandit the Buoy

So why put an expensive piece of equipment in a rough spot where its likely to break free? Dugan says the answer lies in the question.

“Cook Inlet is a dynamic place and with the ice and the boat traffic and the currents, we knew it was fairly risky to put it out there, but the need was so great it was worth the risk,” says Dugan.

The buoy is located off the coast of the southern peninsula between Homer and Anchor Point. It was first deployed in 2011 and transmits information on wave height and direction, wave period, and water temperature.

It’s maintained by the Alaska Ocean Observing System, or AOOS, which is one of 11 such organizations around the country. Dugan says they try to identify and fill gaps in ocean monitoring around the state. That’s why their motto is the Eye on Alaska’s Coast and Oceans.

“We are under the umbrella of NOAA but we act as a non-profit organization and our mission is to improve access to marine data,” says Dugan. “So, we work with institutions and organizations and groups across the state that pull together information on the coastal and marine environment and produce interactive data tools that the general public can use to get information.”

The Cook Inlet buoy’s data can be accessed three ways online. There’s a real-time sensor map through AOOS. The map also provides information from more than 2000 other weather, wind, and water monitoring stations and webcams around the state.

Its information is also on the website of the National Data Buoy Center through the National Weather Service and through the Army Corps of Engineers.

She says the data is updated every few minutes. And when Bandit the buoy manages to escape up the inlet and stops transmitting, Dugan says her office hears about it.

“The buoy has a really wonderful group of Homer supporters that check it on a regular basis. So, when the buoy goes down, we get phone calls which, from the perspective of someone managing the buoy, it’s great to know the buoy is in such high demand.”

But the rough seas and unpredictable waves that Bandit so dutifully measures are exactly the forces that may make it live up to its adventurous name sometime again in the future.