Scientists at Stennis Space Center at NASA have used two prototype environmental monitoring buoys, created as easy-to-build school projects, to monitor the effect of storm surges in waters as Hurricane Isaac moved on shore in late August.
DRIFTER, an environmental monitoring buoy, tied to a pole offshore in Heron Bay, Mississippi, sent information regarding water conductivity and temperature throughout the storm. It did not transmit information when it was completely submerged in water. The DRIFTER regained transmission of data once waters subsided and the received data helped scientists to figure out how the storm surge of Isaac affected levels of salt and fresh water in the area. A second DRIFTER, tied just near Half Moon Island on the south-southeast side of Heron Bay in Louisiana waters, sent information till the storm interrupted service from cell tower. The DRIFTER started sending data again after the skies cleared.
The Stennis Applied Science & Technology Project Office (ASTPO) designed and made the pair of DRIFTER prototypes. Duane Armstrong of ASTPO said that the DRIFTERs endured during tropical storm and hurricane conditions and they were able to gather and sent information regarding the storm even being submersed for hours by the surge.
This project was started as an effort to assist Gulf Coast oyster fishermen dealing with the impacts of fresh water intrusion due to the spilling of oil in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and the Mississippi River flooding in 2011. ASTPO tried to reach out to the oyster fishermen in Mississippi to see if the Earth science expertise from NASA could help them. The fishermen requested help for monitoring the salinity of leased waters and temperature, and if this could be completed, oyster fishermen could check when they required to pile up their beds or take other actions, including shifting the beds in order to keep away from contamination.
Each DRIFTER is nearly 18 in high and they are made of PVC pipe as well as simple electronics, such as a GPS receiver to control the DRIFTER’s position, a battery and solar panel to supply power for extended periods, a cell phone modem to transfer data to a website and a simple computer to control and configure the device. Sensors gather data on water temperature as well as conductivity that measures salinity in water.