A sensor architecture for real-time, in situ measurement of overlake evaporation on the Laurentian Great Lakes

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Branko Kerkez1, Kevin John Fries1, Andrew Gronewold2 and John D Lenters3, (1)University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI, United States, (2)NOAA Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI, United States, (3)LimnoTech, Ann Arbor, MI, United States
While overlake evaporation is a major component of the Great Lakes’ water balance, our scientific understanding of the climatic drivers of evaporation and its effects on water levels is significantly impeded by limited data. Existing measurement methods, such as eddy covariance, are not easily implemented in offshore applications. As such, there are only a handful of sites making direct, overlake measurements of evaporation on the entire Great Lakes, where the lake surface area comprises nearly one third of the entire basin. Long-term forecasts of water levels are thus very uncertain, particularly relating to climatic forcing, which is known to be a major driver of evaporation. We present a novel sensor architecture which is deployed on buoys, both tethered and drifting, to provide real-time measurements of overlake evaporation across the Great Lakes. Our system is comprised of a hierarchy of low-power, cost-effective sensor nodes, which carry out on-board computations to estimate evaporation in real-time. An ultra-low power microcontroller samples a suite of sensors to compute evaporation based on the Bowen ratio energy budget approach. The readings are then transmitted via satellite modules to a cloud-based server infrastructure for real-time updated scientific analysis and forecasting. Initial assessment of our new satellite drifter platform indicates robust field performance, validating its use in ongoing efforts to deploy a large-scale evaporation observation network across the Great Lakes basin.