From Homer’s “wine dark seas” to David Attenborough’s “Blue Planet,” the color of the ocean has held our fascination throughout the ages.
People often consider blue water as a sign of a healthy ocean and dirty-brown water to indicate polluted water. Turns out, color is a valuable indicator of the environmental health of our waters.
For more than a century, marine scientists have used the Forel-Ule color scale to document the color of oceans and lakes. When seawater is clear and contains only a small amount of particulate matter and marine life, it can appear dark blue. When phytoplankton, the single-cell plants that provide about half the oxygen we breathe, are abundant in seawater, it can appear bluish-green. When the ocean is brown or yellow, it is likely that dissolved organic and inorganic materials are washing off the land.
Colleagues at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences tell us that the waters of the Gulf of Maine have become increasingly yellow over the last century.
While it is likely the color of Casco Bay is changing, too, not much data has been collected in our nearshore areas. So our plan is to mobilize scores of volunteers to collect hundreds of color measurements. The more measurements we collect, the more accurate our understanding of the Bay.
This 2016 Portland Press Herald Article covering Dr. Wiliam Balch and the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences research on the color of the Gulf of Maine. We consulted Dr. Balch as we decided to launch the Color by Numbers pilot project. The article notes the “decades-long shift toward yellower waters is most noticeable along Maine’s coastal areas.” As a Color by Numbers Volunteer, you are taking measurements that we hope will expand the understanding of this in Casco Bay. If you want more scientific background on the Forel-Ule scale and the importance of measuring color, you can read this scientific journal article.
You can help!
We are putting a modern spin on this old way of assessing water quality. With a click of the camera on your cell phone, you can help address the question, “How is the Bay changing?”
As a volunteer, you will use a smartphone app containing the Forel-Ule color scale. Working around mid-day high tides, volunteers will use their smartphones to photograph and measure the color of the water. The data, along with location and time, become part of a worldwide catalog of water color.
Please fill out the form at the bottom of this page to join as a Color by Numbers volunteer.