Tsunami buoy found on Yachats beach - hours after 'tsunami watch' on Oregon coast

Courtesy @sassymom08/Twitter

An Oregon couple found a tsunami buoy on the coast, ironically on the morning of a tsunami watch that has since been canceled.

Tuesday morning's watch was declared in Washington and Oregon following a 7.9-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Alaska. The watch was canceled at 4:15 a.m.

According to the National Weather Service, the buoy is used for detecting tsunami waves. It could be a buoy that broke from its mooring approximately 265 miles west of Astoria on Oct. 4, per the NWS.

The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration says the buoy is one of 32 Deep-ocean Assessment & Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) stations positioned around the Ring of Fire in the Pacific Ocean.

DART systems consist of an anchored seafloor bottom pressure recorder (BPR) and a companion moored surface buoy for real-time communications. An acoustic link transmits data from the pressure recorder on the seafloor to the surface buoy.

In the event of a tsunami, the recorder recognizes a change in frequency and pressure. It sends a signal to the buoy, which sends an alert to the Tsunami Warning Center via satellite.

NOAA's Kathleen O'Neil says the buoys are tethered to at least one anchor by a nylon rope. They receive maintenance every four years or sooner, depending on the location.

It's not clear how the buoy broke free.

O'Neil says it could be a number of factors: a vessel traveled over the rope, severing it, or it could have been weakened by strong currents or extreme conditions.

"The moorings do break, and they will go adrift with the waves and the current," O'Neil said.

And that's exactly what happened.

Buoy 46404 drifted for months- pushed by wind, currents and waves.

O'Neil says NOAA notified the U.S. Coast Guard and commercial ships of the unmoored buoy and to recover it if possible.

For three weeks, it neared the Oregon Coast, but didn't make landfall until overnight Tuesday.

Gregg Hall found the buoy on his morning walk near Yachats and tweeted KATU.

"When I got closer, I could see it was clearly a buoy," Hall told KATU. "I could see NOAA stamped on the side of it with tsunami, so it was a tsunami buoy."

Hall snapped a few photos of the discovery. He says he called the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office to report the buoy.

"A variety of things you can find out there," Hall said referring to the beach. "Mostly, it's not really anything interesting. you might find some plastic, but never anything like this."

NOAA said one buoy offline would not significantly impact the system's ability to detect tsunamis. However, they said they would like to replace it as soon as they can.

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