Lake Superior Project Seeks Sustainability

Lake Superior near Pictured Rocks
Lake Superior near Pictured Rocks

Northern Michigan University led a collaborative effort two years ago to establish a coastal hazard observing system for a stretch of Lake Superior shoreline that includes the communities of Marquette, Munising and Grand Marais. Three monitoring buoys placed offshore from each city generate timely data on wind speed and direction, wave height, and air and water temperature. The goal is to better predict conditions and ensure greater safety for lake users. Grants supported the project’s launch and early operation, but scientists are concerned about covering operation and equipment maintenance costs over a longer term.

“Some of the costs are offset by donations of time, boat charters, storage space and other in-kind services by several boat companies and by the National Park Service, but there’s still a big gap with more than $70,000 worth of equipment on the lake,” said Norma Froelich, NMU professor in Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences. “We’ve had to make some repairs on one of the buoy navigation lights already and we just pulled the Munising buoy out for winter storage and it is in need of some repairs.

“Because we know that we will have to maintain and replace them in the long run, we need to fundraise in advance to prepare for that so we can continue to provide this important service. The data the system provides helps people make informed decisions about whether to go out on the lake or not.”

Froelich said it used to be a problem for the National Weather Service to predict storms because there wasn’t much in the way of consistent monitoring along that stretch of shoreline. The hope was that the system would allow for greater preparedness for coastal weather events. This benefits the Coast Guard, National Park Service, water recreation enthusiasts, tour companies, fisheries, federal agencies, municipalities and search-and-rescue units.

The Superior Watershed Partnership (SWP) developed a Superior Buoys mobile app. Data is also available online at The third project partner joining NMU and SWP was LimnoTech, an Ann Arbor-based environmental consulting company that had previous experience with buoy and weather station deployments on the Great Lakes, including the system that is currently on Granite Island. Three NMU students assist the scientists with data collection.

The project was established with a $100,000 grant from the Great Lakes Observing System. It also received $1,000 from the Alger Regional Community Fund and an $8,000 grant from the Frazier Fund. For more information on supporting the project, contact Froelich at or 227-1891. 

Prepared By
Kristi Evans
News Director