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The NDBC Complex

The National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) is an agency within the National Weather Service (NWS) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NDBC's history can be traced to the late 1960's when buoy development and operation were conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). The program was transferred to NOAA in 1970, and its headquarters moved to Mississippi. Through a Memorandum of Agreement, the USCG is a critically important partner to NDBC. The USCG is the primary source of transportation for buoy deployments, retrievals, and maintenance. The NDBC Technical Services Contractor (NTSC) performs most of the daily functions involved in keeping the entire system running.

Prolonged successful operation and maintenance of any automated device in the marine environment are major challenges. Logistics, servicing, and monitoring tasks are daunting for a network of stations extending from the Bering Sea to the southern oceans, and from the west Pacific to the north Atlantic. The remoteness and geographical dispersion of the stations to minimize data loss must be effectively balanced against very real constraints, such as budget, weather, and resource availability.

Field service teams support buoy deployments and retrievals and perform scheduled or contingency maintenance at the stations. Depending on station type, the USCG provides ship, air, or ground travel support to get the teams to the stations. It also provides bases for buoy refurbishment, equipment installation and checkout, along with aircraft to visually inspect stations or search for buoys that have gone adrift. A central depot and repair facility is located at NDBC where electronic equipment, sensors, and buoy hulls can be refurbished, tested, and operationally certified.

NDBC's technology development is ongoing. It strives to add new capabilities, improve performance, contain costs, and increase system effectiveness. To attain these goals, NDBC has acquired and maintains sophisticated analytical tools and experimental facilities. Numerical models permit assessment of moored and drifting buoy hydrodynamic performance. New sensors and systems can be tested and evaluated in NDBC's automated environmental laboratory complex, which includes a state-of-the-art wind tunnel and large temperature chamber. NDBC subjects new and rebuilt sensors to extensive field testing before installation on remote stations to ensure they will operate properly.

NDBC is researching ways to reduce the cost of taking measurements. One of the most expensive meteorological sensors is a high-quality barometer. NDBC is actively testing the "smart sensor" concept commonly used in modern automobiles. The goal is to use a much less expensive barometer in conjunction with microprocessors to compensate for temperature-induced nonlinearities. It represents another example of applying new technology to solve practical problems, including reduction of short- and long-term costs.