Please note: You are viewing the unstyled version of this website. Either your browser does not support CSS (cascading style sheets) or it has been disabled. Skip navigation.

Dispatch 19: O-Buoys

   Print Change text to small (default) Change text to medium Change text to large

Related Multimedia

October 9 Photos
» View Slideshow

Joey Wenig

October 9, 2014

Every now and then, when I’m wandering lost in the catacomb of indistinguishable passageways deep within the Louis, I’ll stumble across some forgotten corner and hear strains of an Appalachian folk tune whispering in and out of the dull roar of diesel engines and crack of relentless steel against Arctic ice. Then I’ll know that Wes Halfacre is somewhere nearby, strumming a lonesome chord on his banjo and pining for the bluegrass hills of his youth.

Except for me getting lost, none of that has actually happened—yet. It could, though, because Wes is from Kentucky, does have an awesome beard, and there is a banjo on board (don’t ask me what his beard has to do with anything). The 26 year old is now a PhD candidate at Purdue University, and he’s on the Louis for his second cruise as the designated deployer of Ozone Buoys (O-Buoys for short).

The O-Buoys are the result of an international collaboration dating back to 2008 that includes the Bigelow Lab for Ocean Sciences (BLOS, in Maine); Purdue University; the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF); the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL); Environment Canada; the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI); and SRI International. The first O-Buoy was deployed in sea ice off Barrow, AK in 2009. The primary motivation behind these devices is learning more about ‘ozone depletion events’ in the Arctic atmosphere: short intervals (on the order of hours and/or days) when the concentration of atmospheric ozone plummets briefly. These events occur between March and June. The going hypothesis is that sunlight-activated releases of molecular bromine from the snowpack in spring are responsible for the events: the molecular bromine eats up atmospheric ozone in a series of chemical reactions that produce bromine monoxide. Researchers are also interested in distinguishing between situations when an ozone-depleted parcel of air moves past a monitoring station, causing the station to register a deficit for as long as that air mass sticks around; and situations where the ozone is being actively depleted within the air mass overlying the station. In other words, they’d like to know when they’re actually observing chemistry at work, versus when they’re simply seeing a bunch of air with certain properties pass by.  

To make up for notoriously sparse Arctic atmospheric data and help gain insight into the above, the O-buoys are loaded with instruments. They carry ozone monitors, atmospheric and, only on the last O-Buoy being deployed, oceanic CO2 sensors, a device for measuring atmospheric bromine monoxide, and an anemometer (wind velocity). The O-Buoy also records GPS position, temperature, and relative humidity. They even have cameras that take hourly pictures (sometimes of polar bear snouts). To power everything, they’re deployed with one set of lithium batteries and one set of lead-acid batteries—the latter are rechargeable via solar panel, and the lithium set only kicks in during winter months when sunlight is non-existent.

A connoisseur of deadpan humor, cribbage, and clawhammer banjo, Wes is no slouch at buoy deployment either. With some help from John Kemp, Mike Dempsey, and June Marion, Wes put the first of his two O-Buoys into the ice last Sunday, and will deploy the second at the next Ice Based Observatory coming up on Saturday.

Last updated: October 7, 2019

whoi logo

Copyright ©2007 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, All Rights Reserved, Privacy Policy.
Problems or questions about the site, please contact