'Smart buoy,' 8th of its kind, dropped into Potomac River

May 14, 2010|By Candus Thomson | Baltimore Sun reporter

ABOARD THE USCG SLEDGE — With the ease of a player moving a chess piece, a massive crane growled to life early Friday afternoon, plucked a yellow buoy off the deck, swung it over the side and gently lowered into the Potomac River.

Just like that, the network of bobbing markers that broadcast air and water quality readings on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries to anglers, boaters, students and scientists grew by one.

The eighth "smart buoy" is part of the Capt. John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail that commemorates the voyages of discovery carried out more than 400 years ago. The buoys are owned and maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as part of a larger system of sensors that monitor bay quality.

The markers have been deployed from the tidal waters of Virginia and a spot just off Annapolis to the mouth of the Patapsco River and the navigational channel of the Susquehanna River. Next month, a buoy will be placed off Solomons, near a new artificial reef.

Doing the honors Friday was the Sledge, a Coast Guard buoy tender based at Curtis Bay and under the command of Paul Curtis. As spectators watched from a safe distance, the skipper carefully maneuvered to a spot just south of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge that spans the Potomac between Prince George's County and Northern Virginia.

NOAA scientists quickly assembled some minor instruments on the deck of the $120,000 solar-powered buoy before the Coast Guardsmen took over. Within minutes of touching the water, the buoy was transmitting information that can be accessed by calling 877-buoybay or at buoybay.org.

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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