Scientists, government officials and the public will be able to get almost instantaneous readings of water and weather conditions in Chesapeake Bay, thanks to a gift of computer equipment from AT&T, a University of Maryland research center said.
The equipment, worth more than $500,000, will link a series of six monitoring buoys as part of a $2.5 million project aimed at getting a continuous assessment of environmental conditions throughout the bay.
The project is directed by UM's Center for Environmental and Estuarine Studies, in cooperation with Virginia's Old Dominion University, the College of William & Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Plans are to place six permanent monitoring buoys in the bay from the mouth of the Susquehanna River at the north to the mouth of the bay at the Virginia capes. The first buoy was placed off Havre de Grace last spring, according to Alexis Henderson, the center's spokeswoman. It has been transmitting data to the center's Horn Point Environmental Laboratory near Cambridge.
Every five minutes, monitors attached to the buoys will take readings of currents, water temperature, salinity, wind speed and direction and air temperature.
Those measurements will be transmitted by radio to the CEES laboratories at Horn Point and at Solomons. Other laboratories and agencies also will be linked by computer.
The buoy network is expected to be completed by 1993, Henderson said. Eventually, scientists hope to outfit the buoys with other monitors that measure dissolved oxygen, nutrients, water clarity and even the passage of fish.
CEES also hopes to deploy six portable "rover" buoys, which could monitor such things as unusual weather events.
The system is intended to complement current monitoring efforts conducted by state and federal agencies, which use boats to sample water conditions periodically.
"The Chesapeake Bay Observing System will revolutionize estuarine studies by providing continuous readings on the conditions of bay waters much like satellites now monitor the weather," Donald Boesch, CEES president, said in a prepared statement.
He said this was the first permanent monitoring system this complex ever placed in a bay.
"It represents a promising new technology for understanding processes in the bay," said Robert Magnien, chief of bay monitoring for the Maryland Department of the Environment. "And at the same time it provides for better interaction and communication among researchers and managers who are monitoring conditions in the bay."