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Power of Marine Observations
11 November 2014

Weather at Sea

Irelandís position on the western edge of Europe means that we are first to be affected by the regular cycle of weather systems crossing the North Atlantic Ocean. It is imperative therefore that we track how these systems develop and move with marine observations. One of the main functions of the Marine Unit is to deal with marine weather observations. These observations come from many different sources including ships, lighthouses and moored buoys. Because these observations come from areas where we have very little coverage they can have a significant impact on our weather forecasting models and often give us the first hint of a developing storm.

Irelandís Voluntary Observing fleet includes ships from Irish Ferries, the Commissioners of Irish Lights and the Irish Naval Service. These ships are visited regularly to check and install equipment. The Irish Buoy Network was established in 2000 and we now have five buoys operating around the coast of Ireland. The M2 is located 20 miles off Howth Head, the M3 is 30 miles off Mizen Head, the M4 is 45 miles off Rossan Point, the M5 is 30 miles off Hook Head and the M6 is 210 miles off Slyne Head. The procurement, deployment and annual servicing of the buoys is carried out by The Marine Institute. The waters around Ireland can be very hostile during the winter and on occasion some of the buoys break their moorings and come adrift. A quick recovery of the buoy is necessary to reduce the navigational hazard and to ensure that the buoy is not damaged by landing ashore.

The buoys are powered by solar panels, which charge their batteries, and have radar reflectors and navigational lights on their masts to assist in ships navigating clear of their station. The buoys have two operating systems and dual sensors for weather parameters and this dual system ensures that the buoys can operate most of the time.

In 2010 a new type of buoy was launched with the added capability of measuring individual waves. On 26 January 2014, the M4 Donegal buoy recorded a massive 23.4m wave. The Kinsale Energy Gas platform located 30 miles off the coast of Cork has recorded and transmitted weather reports to us since 1979. This platform also measures individual waves by radar and it recorded a 25.0m individual wave in February this year. The M4 wave and the Kinsale wave are the highest recorded since records began in 2000 and 1993 respectively.

Other sources of marine weather are the lighthouses run by the Commissioners of Irish Lights, which provide us with visibility reports to help verify fog or mist.
All the data we collect is quality controlled, corrected if necessary and stored in our database. This data can then be used for compiling statistics and for climate studies, including verification of climate change. Customers also require data for legal reports where an incident has occurred on the coastline or further out at sea. The construction of marine projects also requires statistics and a return period of what winds or significant wave heights might be expected in a specified time frame.†

Damaged Buoy M2 after a vessel strike in August 2014.

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