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UND says a buoy with a scientific payload is missing from Devils Lake

Xiaodong Zhang, co-project leader, with the University of North Dakota Department of Earth System Science and Policy, stands by the buoy that he and his colleagues launched in Stump Lake.

GRAND FORKS -- The University of North Dakota is reporting a missing buoy.

Anchored in the middle of Devils Lake, the lonesome buoy would report water quality and its location every 10 minutes to scientists at UND.

0 Talk about it

It went silent about a week and a half ago, and, when the scientists went to search for it Tuesday, it had disappeared, said professor Xiaodong Zhang with the Department of Earth System Science and Policy.

Now, Zhang is asking those in the Devils Lake area to be on the lookout for the buoy, which is 5 feet tall, 5 feet wide, 80 pounds, bright yellow and obsessed with salinity, turbidity and other measures of water quality.

It last called home at 8 a.m. Nov. 9 to say it was two miles northeast of the Spirit Lake casino.

Zhang won’t speculate why the buoy went missing. It’s unwieldy to move and, even though the university spent $30,000 to build the scientific sensors attached to the buoy, all of that is worthless to the average person, he said.

There is some urgency because cold weather is coming and, if the buoy is still on the lake somewhere when it freezes, that could damage the sensors, he said. And more people will be able to get to it by walking on ice and may be tempted to mess with it, he said.

Major project

The buoy first went in the water in fall 2011 as part of a $3 million project funded by NASA. UND’s goal is to figure out how the saltiness of the water changes as the lake floods and as the climate of the region changes.

It was initially anchored in Stump Lake, which, because of rising water levels, is now connected to Devils Lake. The buoy was moved to Devils Lake this year.

The buoy was last reported being seen Oct. 21 by state Health Department workers doing water quality surveys, Zhang said.

He wasn’t worried when he didn’t hear from the buoy because it has a habit of not calling, he said. In cool weather, the batteries sometime drain before they can be recharged by the solar panel, especially if the solar panel is frozen, he said.

UND is contacting government agencies in the Devils Lake region, such as those that run Grahams Island State Park and Fish and Wildlife agents, and the tribal casino. But it’s also asking the public for help.

How you can help: If you know where the buoy is contact Zhang at (701) 777-2490 or zhang@aero.und.edu.

On the Web: More info about the water-quality project is at www.und.edu/instruct/zhang.

Tu-Uyen Tran
Tran is an enterprise reporter with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began his newspaper career in 1999 as a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, now owned by Forum Communications. He began working for the Forum in September 2014. Tran grew up in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington.
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