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Seneca Lake’s Mystery Currents

10/30/2021 4:03 PM | Kaitlin Fello

Written by Lewis McCaffrey, DEC

Fishermen on the lake have long suspected that currents within Seneca Lake run fast and deep. Now the true speed and direction of water in the Finger Lakes’ deepest waterbody have been measured for the first time. Researchers from Le Moyne College in Syracuse have used drifting buoys equipped with satellite trackers to take measurements. The buoys were attached to suspended underwater ‘drogues’ at depths approaching 100 feet, where they catch rapidly moving currents. The results will allow scientists to better predict the movement of pollutants, harmful algae blooms and plumes of sediment and warm water.

The trio of drifting buoys were released on 17th October, and the fastest travelled 9 miles in the first 48 hours. The probes were also equipped with temperature and light sensors, which may provide clues to the cause of the currents. They also have orange flashing beacons at the surface to aid identification and ensure safety in navigation. The research is being carried out by Adjunct Professor Lewis McCaffrey and research students Birdem Oz and Jacob Stewart. McCaffrey’s full-time job is as a research scientist for NYS DEC. It is thought that climate change will increase temperature stratification in many American lakes, ultimately causing currents to strengthen, with unpredictable consequences.

Two of the drifters have been safely removed from the lake, but at the time of writing one remains but its GPS is no longer reporting. Anyone seeing a flashing orange light in the lake is requested to urgently email Dr McCaffrey at with an approximate location (e.g. lat/lon or address onshore and distance to the light).

Other information:

1. Research was funded by Le Moyne College, a Jesuit liberal arts school located in De Witt near Syracuse, NY.

2. A ‘drogue’ (also known as a ‘sea anchor’) is an apparatus arranged to produce resistance to movement through the water. In this case the drogues are made of 4 ft panels of HDPE plastic - selected for its unreactivity, abrasion resistance and recyclability.

3. Dr McCaffrey and students are part of the Department of Biology and Environmental Sciences. The students will carry out the research as part of their undergraduate program.

4. In general the driving force behind deep currents is the wind acting on the lake’s surface, causing upper waters to shift in the approximate direction of the wind. Deeper water has to flow in the opposite direction to make up for this displacement.

5. Lake residents Larry Martin, Dan Corbett and Addie Mason have enabled the placement and retrieval of the drifters.

6. Contact information:

Lewis McCaffrey,, 315 278 1530

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