SECOORA members are using a variety of technologies to understand our ocean and coastal environments.  This page provides an overview of some of the most common observing technologies in the region.


Buoys are anchored to the ocean floor and house sensors that measure both air and water conditions. Meteorological sensors found on a buoy measure air conditions including: barometric pressure, air temperature and wind speed, gust and direction.  Sensors that measure water conditions are affixed to the buoy at the surface of the water as well as suspended from the buoy down into the water column. These sensors measure conditions including: wave height, period, and direction, current speed and direction, water temperature, salinity, turbidity, chlorophyll, nutrients, pH, and dissolved oxygen. Buoys are powered by batteries which are recharged by solar panels attached to the buoy. The buoys transmit their data at regular intervals via satellite communications. 

Image Credit:  Jamie Moncrief/UNCW


Coastal High Frequency Radar Installations

Data collected from high-frequency (HF) radar can be used to determine the speed and direction of ocean surface currents. Surface current maps provided by HF radar offer the near real-time ability to view currents over a large coverage area, up to 100 square miles. This information can be useful in tracking oil or other hazardous materials and harmful algal blooms. Because of the large coverage area, they also are valuable for input into ocean models and for assisting with search and rescue operations at sea. HF Radars form an essential part of the broad suite of instruments and models necessary to observe, understand, and predict the workings of the coastal ocean and its ecosystems.

Image Credit:

Meteorological Observations

Meteorological stations along the coast hourly provide wind speed, gust and direction, air temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, solar radiation, rainfall and water temperature data. These stations have been established on coastal beaches and islands and on piers and offshore platforms, such as oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. These basic measurements provide important information for predicting changes to the weather and climate. The meteorological data are also valuable in understanding coastal water circulation and upwelling events.

Image Credit: USC Baruch Field Lab

Ship-based Observations

Scientists onboard research vessels conduct research cruises to gather physical, chemical and biological information on ocean conditions along the cruise route. Some sensors are mounted on the ship and take regular measurements of water and atmospheric conditions. Researchers also deploy instruments into the ocean to gather information on conditions throughout the water column. Water samples and samples of organisms caught via nets are brought onboard for further testing and analysis.

Image Credit:  Jamie Moncrief/UNCW


Gliders are autonomous underwater vehicles that are programmed to survey specific locations, such as coastal bays or the continental shelf. They are designed to start at the water surface, slowly drop down to the ocean floor or specific depth, and then return to the surface while moving forward along their survey path. They can continue sampling following this sawtooth pattern for up to 30 days or more.  The automated sensors onboard the glider measure ocean properties such as water temperature, Chlorophyll A, and salinity. These instruments can provide data about the ocean during storms or high swell events when sea conditions may not be suitable for boat based sampling. Repeated glider deployments in the same area also provide insight into the variability of ocean conditions, and the factors which influence those changes. 

Image Credit:  Jamie Moncrief/UNCW

Coastal and Riverine Sensor Networks

River monitoring requires large-scale water quality and environmental assessments in order to determine the nutrients in, and the quality of, water flowing into our coastal regions. Large river systems within the southeast, such as the Cape Fear River in North Carolina and the St. John's River in Florida, can flow through heavily developed areas as well as large scale commercial farming regions. Nutrients and pollution that runoff from municipalities and farms can overly stress the freshwater and brackish water ecosystems supported by these rivers. As the water moves downstream, associated estuaries and the coastal ocean can be adversely affected by the nutrients and pollutants. Coastal and riverine sensor networks collect data including nutrient load, pH, water temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, water level, turbidity (sediment load), and Chlorophyll or Phycocyanin (to measure algae blooms) which enable researchers and state officials to monitor river and coastal ocean health. 

Image Credit: Dr. Dave Lambert/UNF

Computer Models

Data is incorporated into computer models developed to simulate the coastal ocean environment. Models can be used to help forecast ocean transport pathways, such as those responsible for the circulation of coastal pollutants, small marine organisms, and nutrients. Models also aid in assessing climate change and variability and their potential effects on coastal communities.  (Source:

Image credit: Significant Wave Height from Weather Office Newport’s Graphical Forecast Editor

Satellite Observations

Earth observing satellites are orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 500 to over 20,000 miles above the Earth’s surface and collect imagery that allows us to measure ocean conditions including sea surface temperature, ocean color, and sea surface height.   Satellite remote sensed data is available to the public by NASA, NOAA and other agencies. The remotely sensed imagery is used by researchers, for example, to monitor rapidly changing weather events such as hurricanes, ocean currents, such as the Gulf Stream, and polar ice distribution. Image Credit:, AVHRR Sea Surface Temperature