ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) — When "Clatsop Spit," one of its two spherical, yellow Waverider weather buoys located outside the mouth of the Columbia River, "died" from a drained battery, Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego dispatched a two-man team to Astoria to replace it as soon as possible.
And the institution turned to one of its continuing partners, Tongue Point Job Corps Center and its vessel, the Ironwood, as its preferred delivery platform.
The nearly 70-year-old former U.S. Coast Guard buoy tender, loaded with more than 50 student crew members, researchers and Tongue Point staff, delivered a replacement Waverider buoy back into the Pacific Ocean last week, re-establishing a wealth of wave data in the Columbia River Bar used by several agencies.
"We put the buoy in the water, then we deployed the chain to hold it in place," said Len Tumbarello, the former U.S. Coast Guard sector deputy commander and the new head of Tongue Point's seamanship program. "The position's where it needs to be. We talked to the Scripps folks, and it's transmitting and doing its job again."
The Clatsop Spit buoy floats about three miles offshore from its namesake in about 82 feet of water. A second Scripps buoy, the "Astoria Canyon," is about 30 nautical miles west of the mouth of the Columbia River in more than 600 feet of water.
They both record wave height, direction and frequency, along with surface water temperatures.
"Every 30 seconds they make a satellite phone call," said Brett Pickering, a field coordinator with Scripps' Coastal Data Information Program in San Diego, which manages more than 50 buoys worldwide providing wave and other data. "It comes to us; the data goes out to the National Weather Service."
The information program, based out of the oceanographic institute within the University of California San Diego, displays their live data stream at http://cdip. ucsd.edu and its mobile website http://cdip.ucsd.edu/m. The information is used by many other marine weather apps and websites.
Dan Jordan of the Columbia River Bar Pilots said his group uses the buoys to determine whether ships can cross the bar safely. Meanwhile, he added, the U.S. Coast Guard uses them for search and rescue and in their bar closures; mariners use them for safety; and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uses them to study coastal erosion.
Atop the Waverider buoys, made by the company Datawell based in The Netherlands, are a GPS, radio antenna and a satellite connection for Iridium communications. Attached to the bottom is 100 feet of bungee line connecting to more than 1,000 pounds of World War II-era anchor chains donated by Portland-based Vigor Marine from a Pearl Harbor dry dock it's disassembling.
When the buoy "died" the week before last, Jordan said Scripps called him. He called the Coast Guard, which towed it to shore.
Then the Ironwood, complete with more than 50 Job Corps student crew members, Tumbarello, former Capt. Patrick Albers, other staff and two researchers from Scripps, took the $60,000 buoy to a GPS-marked location.
"The benefit here is that they (the students) get to see an at-sea evolution, line handling — that type of thing where they can have some hands-on training," said Tumbarello, who's still in training himself for a merchant marine license needed before he can captain the Ironwood.
The dead buoy sits at Tongue Point, from which it will head back to UC San Diego for assessment and reconditioning.
Scripps has responded to downed buoys as fast as two to three days after the fact, said Pickering.
Before its involvement, buoys would sometimes get taken out during early winter storms, leaving mariners without wave data for long periods of time. The spherical design of the buoys, while sometimes left visible to passing vessels, has been found more durable in the heavy weather conditions than their upright steel tower counterparts.
"We were one of the leaders in making it happen," said Jordan of the bar pilots' involvement in starting the northwest partnership with Scripps. "For quite a few years, the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather buoys have been failing every winter."
The Clatsop Spit buoy was deployed in 2009 by the Ironwood, part of the eventual two-buoy Columbia River Bar Safety Technology project, an effort to provide real-time wave data and predictive modeling to help understand current and future conditions on the Columbia River bar. In 2011, Tongue Point helped deploy the Astoria Canyon buoy, completing the safety project.
Funding for the project comes from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which funded the deployment of the original Clatsop Spit because it sees the wave buoys as helping in its dredging and coastal erosion research efforts.
In 2010, the Columbia River Bar Pilots secured a Connect Oregon III grant and matched 20 percent to pay for the Astoria Canyon buoy and a spare located at Tongue Point.
And this wasn't the first time Scripps needed that spare. In the winter of 2011, a boat propeller cut into the Clatsop Spit buoy, breaking it from its tether and sending it into the shipping channel. The Coast Guard retrieved it with a motor lifeboat. In December 2012, said Pickering, the same thing happened to the Astoria Canyon buoy.
He said that along with the Clatsop Spit and Astoria Canyon buoys, Scripps operates one in Grays Harbor, Wash., and another in Coos Bay, the only four of theirs between Alaska and California.