Arctic buoy presumed lost

A data-collection buoy awaits deployment in a Coast Guard C-130, Tuesday.(Sam Friedman photo)

Two days after a Kodiak-based U.S. Coast Guard C-130 crew dropped a new type of weather buoy into the Arctic Ocean the buoy is still not communicating with satellites and is presumed lost.

Due to the enormous cost of operating in the Arctic, no effort will be made to recover the buoy, especially because it is not transmitting its location and would be difficult to find.

The buoy was designed to transmit information about temperature, location and atmospheric pressure for its three-year battery life. The buoy cost about $18,000.

But that is part of the price of doing business in the Arctic, said University of Washington researcher and mathematician Roger Andersen.

“I’m afraid a cost of ($18,000) seems very large, but the logistics costs of a capable vessel or aircraft conducting such search would be far more,” he wrote in an e-mail.

“The takeaway point is the data is extremely valuable, and data from unmanned data buoys is a bargain, easily worth losing a few buoys in a failed deployment, crushed in a pressure ridge or chewed by a bear.”

The problem with the buoy is not yet known.

Tuesday’s drop was the first test of a new model of buoy designed to float on the open ocean and survive the Arctic Ocean’s freeze-up.

Andersen said if he had to try again he would try dropping it from a lower elevation, although Tuesday’s drop was within the recommendations given by the buoy’s manufacturer.

It is also not clear what caused a malfunction of an identical buoy on the same mission that was not dropped because an explosive that separates the buoy from its parachute fired too early.

While the University of Washington works on figuring out what went wrong with both buoys, the program will continue working with the Coast Guard as its makes its biweekly Arctic Domain Awareness flights over the Arctic Circle.

Andersen has some more types of probes and buoys for recording Arctic Ocean data and plans to return to Kodiak in two weeks for the next Arctic Domain Awareness flight.


Wednesday’s story “C.G. drops buoy into Artic Ocean” quotes Andersen saying that the buoy that dropped into the ocean may have had a problem with its explosive cutter or its elevation. The problems involved two different buoys. The first one was not dropped after the explosive cutter malfunctioned. The second was dropped and is now lost.

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