Reliability is another problem. At any one time, the NOAA reported that data from the buoys was available about 84 percent of the time and one to two buoy outages occur each month. There's two primarily reasons for this: human error and "Old Man Winter."
Most buoy outages occur due to problems with mooring lines. "According to data from NOAA's National Data Buoy Center... failure of mooring lines accounted for almost 60 percent of DART buoy outages from December 2005 to November 2009," the GAO reports. "Center officials told us that mooring lines fail for a variety of reasons, including ship collisions and vessels that tie up to a buoy."
Winter makes it difficult to keep the buoys working because the NOAA can't make its regular maintenance rounds because of harsh ocean conditions.
The NOAA told the GAO it wants to significantly improve its buoy network's data availability rate. Currently the NOAA is trying to identify stronger mooring materials while it also explores moving some buoys to less hostile waters.
These improvements are critical, the GAO explains, because "[w]hen DART buoys are out of service, they cannot detect tsunamis or transmit data to the tsunami warning centers."
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♦ Graphs from GAO