UW Today

February 11, 2016

Bellingham Bay buoy an opportunity to observe marine waters for Northwest Indian College, world

Preparing to launch the new buoy, named Se’lhaem, in Bellingham Bay.

Preparing to launch the new buoy, named Se’lhaem, in Bellingham Bay.University of Washington

The Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction, through its education partner the University of Washington, is deploying an oceanographic observing buoy in Bellingham Bay this week that will allow Northwest Indian College students both hands-on experience with the technology as well as the ability to study the data from their computers, through the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems, NANOOS.

See more photos from the buoy launch

“It’s impressive to see NWIC students helping Western and UW collect important data from our oceans,” said Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island. “The collaboration between these three schools is key to monitoring what goes on in these waters.”

The goals of the Center for Coastal Margin Observation and Prediction are to transcend traditional scientific, educational and societal boundaries to understand complex coastal margin issues. Through the organization, Northwest Indian College students have joined UW students on oceanography research cruises out of the UW’s Friday Harbor Laboratories.

The buoy leaves the harbor.

The buoy leaves the harbor.University of Washington

UW worked with Northwest Indian College, Western Washington University and the Lummi Nation Natural Resources Department to site the buoy and design its features. The buoy will provide the oceanographic data needed to understand fluctuations in harvested species like Dungeness crab and clams.

“NWIC students are excited about this project because it blends the latest technology with the needs of the Lummi community. This buoy will give students real-time, place-based data that can provide environmental context for in-class and capstone research. For many years NWIC students have enjoyed oceanographic opportunities provided by UW and CMOP; through this buoy we will continue this partnership. In fact, a number of students have stated that going on these cruises solidified their desire to become marine scientists,” said Marco Hatch, director of the Salish Sea Research Center at NWIC.

“This program is a great example of Pacific Northwest ingenuity at its best,” Ranker said. “These smart students and resourceful schools are helping to ensure the health of one of our most precious resources.”

Naming the buoy.

Naming the buoy.University of Washington

The Lummi Nation has given a name to the buoy, Se’lhaem. Se’lhaem was an island located near the mouth of the Nooksack River, but disappeared some time ago. The island was important to the Lummi community as a place for harvesting butter clams, horse clams and cockles.

“This has been such a great project, to bring together students to gain very real experience with technology and science, to work with so many partners, and to provide much needed high-quality data about this part of the Salish Sea. Best of all, it will be a lasting legacy,” said project lead Jan Newton, a UW oceanographer.

UW will work collectively with Western and Northwest Indian College to maintain the buoy, engaging students from all three institutions. Western research vessels will be used to deploy and maintain the buoy.

“We expect the data sets to be used in multiple classes at Western, and for students to have opportunities to participate in turnaround cruises, where they’ll experience how oceanography is done in the real world,” said Erika McPhee-Shaw, director of Western’s Shannon Point Marine Center.

A successful launch.

A successful launch.University of Washington

“Once these data sets have been streaming for a few years their value will be immense. It is difficult to overstate the new understanding we gain of hour-to-hour and week-to-week variability, the true ‘ocean weather’ of the system, that we can only start to see when we implement in-situ observing system systems like this one.”

The buoy will measure a host of atmospheric measurements (wind and air pressure, for example) and has sensors to measure conditions in the bay such as temperature, salinity, oxygen, pH and chlorophyll. These data are valuable to understanding the base of the marine ecosystem, but also issues such as hypoxia (lack of oxygen) and ocean acidification (reduction of pH).

Data will be available to the public as part of NANOOS.


For more information, contact Newton at janewton@uw.edu or 206-713-5214.