Seagull data platform serves thousands on both sides of the border during first field season

David Fitch
Great Lakes Observing System
October 20, 2022
seagull lake monitoring screenshot

Every year, when the buoys return to the water in the spring, people also return to Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS) apps to see water quality, wind, waves and othe real-time conditions on the lakes. This year, GLOS, a binational nonprofit, launched a next-generation data sharing platform called Seagull.

Now at the end of its first field season, staff are busy marking buoys as “Recovered” as the devices come out of the water ahead of ice season. But Seagull development will continue through the cold months.

Dozens of organizations in Canada and the United States, including universities, government agencies, nonprofits and local governments connect their buoys, water quality sensors and other monitoring platforms securely to Seagull so they and others in the region can visualize and use the data.

This free, public information can help inform research, management and recreation. Seagull’s real-time monitoring data comes certified by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Integrated Ocean Observing System, meaning it adheres to common federal standards for the entire data lifecycle.

Seagull launched in late April and replaced several of GLOS’ legacy apps. The result is a new system that is stable, scalable and flexible to better meet the needs of those operating the lake monitoring network as well as the thousands of observers who watch the lakes carefully for changes in weather, water conditions or environmental quality. These observers include boaters, water managers and researchers who need real-time information to improve their decision making and overall understanding of the quickly changing lakes.

In Seagull’s first season, the platform was visited by more than 100,000 people, many of whom submitted feedback and created free accounts, allowing them to set custom alerts, pick unit preferences and more.

“Before discovering the buoys, sometimes it was too rough for our family, and we made unnecessary trips to the lake,” said Matt, a boater from Holland, Michigan. “(Buoys provide) more predictability and understanding of exact lake conditions for safer, more successful boating and fishing trips.”

A Michigan Department of Natural Resources employee added, “I find your buoy information very valuable as a fisheries manager in the area for directing anglers to the (web)site for lake conditions.”

Since April, GLOS staff also worked with data providers to connect dozens of new platforms to Seagull. Because Seagull is built to be interoperable with other data systems via a flexible application programming interface or API, people are already starting to build Seagull data streams into their apps and projects.

university windsor buoy lake erie

A University of Windsor buoy, deployed in the Canadian side of western Lake Erie, shows temperature at multiple depths, from 3 to 30 meters. Credit: GLOS

GLOS’ user-driven philosophy means corresponding one-on-one with those submitting feedback to understand concerns and shape future development. Besides finding early-release bugs, comments have led to improvements in map navigation, how forecast models appear, how measurements are graphed and more.

The GLOS team is working to further refine the user interface and add new platform types, like underwater gliders and high-frequency radar.

Seagull has more than just buoy data. Check out seagull.glos.org for lake-wide forecasts and more.

David Fitch
Great Lakes Observing System

David Fitch is communications specialist at GLOS, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.