HAMPTON BAYS, NY - It may only look like a humble buoy floating in the waters of the Peconic Bay, but a sophisticated instrument launched today will give scientists on land a "live" look at the brown tide algae that has plagued local bays for over a decade.
And, the technology being used to feed a constant stream of brown tide data to Long Island scientists could also help researchers elsewhere tackle nuisance algae problems of their own.
The buoy was built by the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, with $100,000 in funding from Suffolk County's Peconic Estuary Program.
It was given a ceremonial send-off from the docks at Meschutt County Park this morning by Suffolk Executive Robert Gaffney and BNL Director John Marburger.
"As brown tide season approaches, and the reasons why this phenomenon occurs still remain cloudy, we hope this buoy will add a few more pieces to the puzzle," said Marburger. "We are glad to help Suffolk County lead the way in brown tide research."
"What is 'brown tide' and what causes it?" asked Gaffney. "There are many different theories, but the unfortunate fact is, we do not have a definitive answer. But now, with some of the finest scientists anywhere working on this problem, perhaps we'll get some answers and see a permanent end to brown tide."
The buoy was carried by boat to a spot west of Robins Island and anchored in 20 feet of water, where it will gather information on water conditions and algae concentrations throughout the summer. Two other identical buoys, launched separately, will monitor West Neck Bay near Shelter Island and another portion of the Peconic estuary.
The meter-long buoys use detectors called fluorometers to measure the amount of chlorophyll present in the water; chlorophyll is an indicator of the concentration and health of the brown tide algae. Other detectors will record the temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen in the water.
All three instruments are equipped with radio transmitters that can beam data to antennas at Jamesport, Southampton, Orient Point or Smith Point State Park, which will relay the information to a receiver at BNL. The data will then be automatically posted on the World Wide Web at the address http://rolly.ccd.bnl.gov/Btide/bt_top.shtml, making it available to researchers everywhere.
This "environmental monitoring network" also includes stations that collect information on weather conditions from around Suffolk County. The network was constructed by BNL with cooperation from the county, which provided space on an antenna tower at the Southampton police station.
Currently, researchers from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, BNL, the State University of New York at Stony Brook and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute are studying brown tide.
BNL's projects include research on the brown tide organism, Aureococcus anophagefferens, by oceanographer Julie LaRoche of the Laboratory's Environmental Biology Division. Her work is funded by BNL's Laboratory Directed Research & Development program.
LaRoche and BNL colleagues Douglas Wallace, Kevin Wyman and Paul Falkowski, and SCDHS's Robert Nuzzi and Robert Waters, last year published a theory for brown tide occurrence that relied heavily on data collected by SCDHS and past BNL monitoring efforts.
Other algal studies using moored buoys similar to those built by BNL are being conducted in the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Tampa Bay in Florida.
The U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory creates and operates major facilities available to university, industrial and government personnel for basic and applied research in the physical, biomedical and environmental sciences, and in selected energy technologies. The Laboratory is operated by Brookhaven Science Associates, a not-for-profit research management company, under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy.