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We’re still monitoring the health of Casco Bay, and you can too

It is lonely out on the pier where Staff Scientist Mike Doan is collecting data on the health of Casco Bay — and he is playing it safe, taking his own selfie as seen here.

We are continuing to monitor the health of Casco Bay. Our Continuous Monitoring Station is still collecting data every hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Mike services the station every two weeks, making sure the equipment is clean and well-calibrated.

Mike has seen some unusual readings over the past few months — a large phytoplankton bloom in December, a smaller one in February, and warmer-than-usual water temperatures in January and February. He is anxious to compare data from March.

“This has been an unusual winter, and I’m curious to see how conditions change as we move into spring,” Mike reflects.

You can take a look at the data on our website. We also encourage you to get out along the Bay — while maintaining social distancing — and record your own observations on your smartphone. You can find out how on our Water Reporter page.

Donate to Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund

Friends of Casco Bay is creating a $1.5 million fund to be used over the next ten years to understand how Casco Bay is being affected by climate change. We will launch and maintain three oceanographic Continuous Monitoring Stations at three coastal sites around the Bay to collect data on water quality conditions. Communicating those changing conditions to our community is paramount for advocating for policies and actions needed to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. You can read all about this work and the fund to support it here

 

The Bay Is Blooming

What are the signs of spring for you? Chirping chickadees? Street sweeping? Longer daylight? Changing the clocks? (March 8th is the start of Daylight Savings Time!)

The lengthening daylight jumpstarts the growth of phytoplankton, the single-celled plants that are the foundation of the ocean food web. Like plants on land, they respond to increasing sunlight by bursting into bloom.

The graph of chlorophyll fluorescence shows the increase and decrease in phytoplankton abundance in Casco Bay throughout the year at our Continuous Monitoring Station in Yarmouth.

How can we know what is happening in the ocean? Our Continuous Monitoring Station indicates the abundance of phytoplankton in Casco Bay by measuring chlorophyll fluorescence. Chlorophyll is the green pigment in plants that traps the energy of the sun for photosynthesis.

Our long-term monitoring station, anchored just above the sea floor off Cousins Island in Yarmouth, collects measurements of temperature, salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen, carbon dioxide, and chlorophyll fluorescence, every hour, year-round.

Staff Scientist Mike Doan observes, “Our Continuous Monitoring Station is going into its fifth year of data collection. During the first two springs [2017 and 2018], the chlorophyll levels peaked, as expected, around March, which would be consistent with seasonal phytoplankton bloom cycles. Last year, we experienced a winter bloom that peaked in January, much earlier than we would have expected. So far this winter we have experienced a similar situation, with a moderate bloom over the winter. We are very interested in seeing what the February and March data tell us.”

We update our website each month, so come back often to see if these early blooms continue to occur in Casco Bay, yet another signal that things may be changing in the Bay.

A warm winter, even in Casco Bay

If you are thinking this past January was unusually warm, you would not be wrong. January 2020 was Earth’s warmest January in 141 years of temperature records, according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. According to WCSH6 meteorologist Keith Carson, Portland’s average temperature from December 1, 2019, to February 12, 2020, was 30.2 degrees Fahrenheit. So far, 2020 ranks as the 3rd warmest winter on record in Portland and the 6th warmest in Bangor.

Friends of Casco Bay’s Continuous Monitoring Station in Yarmouth confirms that water temperatures in Casco Bay were also especially warm. Our station has been amassing hourly data on the health of the Bay for nearly four years. This graph compares water temperatures from 2016 to date. Staff Scientist Mike Doan says “It is too soon to claim a trend, but the data are concerning. January 2020 water temperatures were on average the warmest we have seen at the station.”

A special Season’s Greetings to you

Amid the delights and demands of the Holidays, we pause here to thank you and all our volunteers, donors, and supporters. You play a crucial role in our ability to monitor the environmental health of Casco Bay, engage community members to be good stewards, and protect our coastal waters from pollution. May the serenity of the season find its way into your heart—along with our gratitude!

We look forward to meeting the challenges ahead in the New Year, confident that with the support of Friends like you, we will forge ahead toward a healthier Casco Bay.

Warmest regards,

Cathy L. Ramsdell, CPA
Executive Director

Did you see our top 10 stories of 2019?

Let’s walk down Memory Lane together to recall our most popular stories of the year, based on your visits to our website and our social media interactions:

  • You answered the call when Casco Bay needed your voice. We asked our supporters to urge the Maine Legislature’s Committee on Marine Resources to pass a bill to create a Climate Change and Ocean Acidification Commission. Ultimately, our bill was incorporated into the Governor’s comprehensive climate change bill, which passed with strong bipartisan support.
  • Maine takes a BIG step forward to address climate change. Our Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca was appointed to serve on the Coastal and Marine Working Group of the newly-created Maine Climate Council.
  • Casco Bay Temperature Extremes Whenever Research Associate Mike Doan is asked, “What were the highest and the lowest water temperatures this year?” he directs folks to our Continuous Monitoring Station data, which document water conditions in the Bay on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis.
  • Our new pumpout boat is taking care of business. More than 100 friends cheered the christening and launch of Headmaster, the new pumpout boat specially built for Friends of Casco Bay.
  • Have you seen this fin? It’s not a shark! Several boaters on the Bay encountered Mola mola, or ocean sunfish, this summer.
  • Casco Bay Matters More than 380 people attended our presentations on Climate Change, Ocean Acidification, and You. If you missed our Casco Bay Matters presentations, you can see the series of three videos on our YouTube channel.
  • BEE a BayScaper! Jane Benesch’s yard attracts butterflies and bees — and neighbors who stop to admire her flower beds, vegetable gardens, tiny lawn — and her BayScaper sign.
  • Hosting so many service days with local companies this year is great for Casco Bay. Friends of Casco Bay led 22 coastal cleanups this summer. Remarked Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman, “Still, we always found plenty of debris to pick up!”
  • Keep pet waste out of the Bay! While we were examining a pollution incident in Cumberland, we came across a pile of dog poop bags at the outfall of a storm drain. When pet lovers toss poop bags into a storm drain, they are not doing the Bay any favors.
  • Water Reporters report in about #sealevelrise. Volunteer Water Reporters were out taking photos of the high tides to document flooded streets and eroding coastlines — warning signs of sea level rise.

We look forward to keeping you updated in the New Year. Our emails will help you stay on top of news about Casco Bay in 2020, including our 30th anniversary celebration on April 29, 2020, at Ocean Gateway in Portland. Mark your calendar and save the date!

Top 10 stories of 2019

Let’s walk down Memory Lane together to recall our most popular stories of the year, based on your visits to our website and our social media interactions:

  • You answered the call when Casco Bay needed your voice
    We asked our supporters to let legislators know they are concerned about climate change and the health of Casco Bay. You urged the Maine Legislature’s Committee on Marine Resources to support a bill to create a Climate Change and Ocean Acidification Commission. Your voices were heard as our bill was incorporated into the Governor’s comprehensive climate change bill, An Act to Promote Clean Energy Jobs and to Establish the Maine Climate Council, which was passed with strong bipartisan support.
  • Maine takes a BIG step forward to address climate change
    Friends of Casco Bay fervently supported Governor Mills’ bill to establish the Maine Climate Council because it focuses on the root causes of climate change and recognizes that we must act now to remediate and adapt to inevitable change. Our Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca has been appointed to the Coastal and Marine Working Group of the Climate Council.
  • Casco Bay Temperature Extremes
    Research Associate Mike Doan is often asked, “What were the highest and the lowest water temperatures this year?” Thanks to our Continuous Monitoring Station, Mike is able to share those data with confidence. He can tell you what water conditions in the Bay are on an hourly, daily, weekly, seasonal, or yearly basis in far more detail than ever before.
  • Our new pumpout boat is taking care of business
    On June 10, more than 100 friends cheered the christening and launch of Headmaster, the new pumpout boat specially built for Friends of Casco Bay. It transports raw sewage from the holding tanks of recreational boats to shoreside treatment. The name Headmaster is a play on the word for a marine toilet — “head” — and gives a nod to the educational and ambassadorial role of the pumpout service.
  • Have you seen this fin?
    It’s not a shark! Several boaters on the Bay encountered Mola mola, or ocean sunfish, this summer. Its bulbous body is not designed for speed, but it can plunge down hundreds of feet in search of its favorite food: jellyfish. It then floats on its side at the ocean surface to warm up after its chilly dive.
  • Casco Bay Matters
    In March and April, 380 people attended our first-ever Casco Bay Matters series, held at three venues around the Bay. They heard Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, Research Associate Mike Doan, and Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell speak on Climate Change, Ocean Acidification and You in Portland, South Portland, and Brunswick. By the last presentation, in Brunswick, it was standing room only. If you missed our Casco Bay Matters presentations, you can see the series of three videos on our YouTube channel.
  • BEE a BayScaper!
    We were proud to see a BayScaper sign on the lawn of Friends of Casco Bay’s volunteer Jane Benesch. Her South Portland yard is bedecked with flower beds, vegetable patches, and wood chip-lined paths — and just a little turf. Her yard attracts butterflies and bees — and neighbors who stop to admire her winged visitors.
  • Hosting so many service days with local companies this year is great for Casco Bay.
    Friends of Casco Bay led 22 coastal cleanups this summer. We had so many requests for community service projects that volunteers sometimes scoured the same location only four days apart. “Still,” said Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman, “we always found find plenty of debris to pick up!”
  • Keep pet waste out of the Bay!
    While we were examining a pollution incident in Cumberland, we came across several dog poop bags at the outfall of a storm drain. When folks toss poop bags into a storm drain, they are not doing the Bay any favors. Storm drains often lead directly to Casco Bay. So after bagging it, deposit pet waste in a trash can or flush the contents down the toilet and throw the plastic bag in the trash.
  • Water Reporters report in about #sealevelrise
    Volunteer Water Reporters were out taking photos of the high tides to document flooded streets, eroding coastlines, and tide levels encroaching where we don’t normally see them. Water Reporter provides a two-way conversation platform about protecting Casco Bay.

We look forward to keeping you updated in the New year. Make sure you stay on top of news about Casco Bay in 2020!

Science: We help you see what is going on beneath the surface of the Bay

Before we started monitoring the water quality of Casco Bay, no one knew how healthy or polluted the Bay actually was. Thanks to the data we have been collecting at dozens of shoreside and offshore sites, we can state that the water temperature of Casco Bay has risen by 2.5°F, on average, since 1993.

Our long-term data set is enhanced by our Continuous Monitoring Station that has been monitoring the health of the Bay hourly, 365 days a year, since 2016. Anchored below a pier in Yarmouth, it provides the frequent, high-volume stream of data necessary to accurately track changes that may impact the oysters, clams, lobsters, and eelgrass within the Bay.

“Climate change is happening so rapidly, we needed to add to the way we collect data,” observed Research Associate Mike Doan. Since July 20, 2016, our Continuous Monitoring Station has been gathering data around the clock, all year long. Each month, we post information on 10 measures that document water quality at our monitoring site in Yarmouth, near the coastal midpoint of Casco Bay. 

Our Monitoring Station is fondly nicknamed the “Cage of Science” because its high-tech sensors are housed inside a converted lobster trap. These instruments measure temperature, salinity, oxygen, pH, carbon dioxide, and more.

These data help us gain new insights—and new questions–on the health of the Bay. Others are finding these data useful, too. Scientists use our data to inform their own research. Policy makers refer to our data to support legislative action on climate change. Classroom teachers have their students analyze our data to launch discussions on what humans can do to improve water quality. Recently, we discovered that young visitors to the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine measure the temperature and salinity of the Museum’s touch tank and compare their readings to our real-world data on Casco Bay.

We have posted our data online for all to see. Visit cascobay.org to see for yourself how Casco Bay is changing month by month.

The news media have recently reported on our plan to expand our array of Continuous Monitoring Stations to get a better understanding of the dynamics of Casco Bay:

We’re still monitoring the health of Casco Bay, and you can too

March 25, 2020

It is lonely out on the pier where Staff Scientist Mike Doan is collecting data on the health of Casco Bay — and he is playing it safe, taking his own selfie as seen here. We are continuing to monitor the health of Casco Bay. Our Continuous Monitoring Station is still… Read more

Donate to Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund

March 24, 2020

Friends of Casco Bay is creating a $1.5 million fund to be used over the next ten years to understand how Casco Bay is being affected by climate change. We will launch and maintain three oceanographic Continuous Monitoring Stations at three coastal sites around the Bay to collect data on… Read more

The Bay Is Blooming

March 4, 2020

What are the signs of spring for you? Chirping chickadees? Street sweeping? Longer daylight? Changing the clocks? (March 8th is the start of Daylight Savings Time!) The lengthening daylight jumpstarts the growth of phytoplankton, the single-celled plants that are the foundation of the ocean food web. Like plants on land, they… Read more

A warm winter, even in Casco Bay

February 20, 2020

If you are thinking this past January was unusually warm, you would not be wrong. January 2020 was Earth’s warmest January in 141 years of temperature records, according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. According to WCSH6 meteorologist Keith Carson, Portland’s average temperature from December 1, 2019, to February… Read more

We are celebrating our 30th—the “pearl anniversary”

January 8, 2020

Pearls are gemstones that mark a 30th anniversary. Pearls are symbolic of wisdom gained through experience. We have learned a lot in 30 years! A pearl is created by an oyster in response to an irritant. A pearl can form over time as an oyster secretes layer upon layer of… Read more

Three decades of success – the impact of Friends of Casco Bay

December 31, 2019

Friends of Casco Bay has a long history of success. Since our founding in 1989, our work-with, science-based approach has moved the needle toward a healthier, more protected Bay. We championed a halt to cruise ship pollution and won a No Discharge Area designation for Casco Bay, the first in… Read more

Woodard & Curran Foundation Awards National Grant to Friends of Casco Bay’s Climate Change Initiative

For immediate release, November 26, 2019

Contact Mary Cerullo, mcerullo [at] cascobay [dot] org/ (207) 799-8574

On November 7, 2019, Woodard & Curran Foundation presented Friends of Casco Bay’s Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell with a whopping gift: $100,000 over three years. The Foundation’s Giving Committee selected Friends of Casco Bay from a competitive pool of nearly 60 grant applicants from around the county. The grant of $100,000 will help support the South Portland-based nonprofit’s ten-year initiative to confront climate change through technology, monitoring, and community engagement.

Friends of Casco Bay will use the $100,000 as it establishes three high-tech continuous monitoring stations across the Bay to collect hourly data year-round and to engage the community in its work to advance policy and behavioral changes to address the impacts of climate change.

Woodard & Curran Foundation supports environmental nonprofits working to protect our water and environment. Barry Sheff, President of the Foundation, said, “The work Friends is doing to monitor the impact of climate change in Casco Bay is incredibly productive in driving education and policy-making within Maine and beyond. This is the first Impact Grant we’ve made in Maine, and on behalf of all of our donors, we are happy to support Friends of Casco Bay with this Impact Grant.”

As Woodard & Curran Foundation looks ahead to its 10th anniversary in 2020, Friends of Casco Bay will be celebrating its 30th year improving and protecting the environmental health of Casco Bay through science, community engagement, and advocating for improvements in water quality.

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Temperature Extremes

Research Associate Mike Doan is often asked, “What were the highest and the lowest water temperatures this year?” Thanks to our Continuous Monitoring Station, Mike is able to share those with confidence. Mike can tell you about water conditions in the Bay on an hourly, daily, weekly, seasonal, or yearly basis, in far more detail than ever before. “Along with identifying temperature extremes, we are interested in being able to monitor how seasons are shifting as Casco Bay continues warming. For example, we are looking at how many days a year the daily average temperature rises above 15°C [59°F] and falls below 5°C [41°F]. In 2018, we had 103 days above 15°C, compared to 97 days in 2017.”

Observes Mike, “2019 is on track to be as warm as 2018 was. With only three years of continuous data, it is much too early to call this a ‘trend,’ but these measurements support our concern that Casco Bay is getting warmer.” Temperature influences how much oxygen and carbon dioxide the water can hold, the rate of plant growth and decay, the movement of currents, and the geographic distribution of marine life. Friends of Casco Bay’s Continuous Monitoring Station has been amassing hourly data on the health of the Bay since July 20, 2016. This “Cage of Science” consists of a modified lobster trap that houses a data sonde and a carbon dioxide sensor. It is funded, in part, by Casco Bay Estuary Partnership and other generous donors. We post the data on our website at cascobay.org/continuous-monitoring-station, where anyone can check out ten parameters that tell us about conditions in Casco Bay.

The Continuous Monitoring Station is anchored just above the ocean floor in Yarmouth. This location was chosen because it is near the coastal midpoint of Casco Bay. We look forward to installing additional monitoring stations at opposite ends of the Bay, near Portland Harbor and in eastern Casco Bay. By establishing an array of three stations, we will be able to understand the variability and change in the eastern, middle, and western regions of the Bay. Says Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell, “We do not collect data merely for the sake of collecting data. The science is used for informing our advocacy and education efforts. What we are learning from our Cage of Science can help our communities understand that conditions are changing, and together we can explore possible responses.”

And how is your summer going?

Summer is going swimmingly here at Friends of Casco Bay, and we have a lot of good news to share:

  • Our priority legislative bill to create a state-level Climate Change and Ocean Acidification Council was incorporated nearly word-for-word into the Governor’s comprehensive Climate Change Council bill. An Act to Promote Clean Energy Jobs and to Establish the Maine Climate Council passed with strong bipartisan support. In recognition of her yeoman’s work on this issue, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca was invited to attend the bill signing by Governor Janet Mills on June 26th.

 

  • Our water quality sampling season is well underway, as we continue to add to our long-term dataset at 22 shoreside and deepwater sites around the Bay. You may see Research Associate Mike Doan and Casco Baykeeper Ivy making the rounds by land and by sea every few weeks from April through October.

 

  • Photo by Kevin Morris

    Since early June, Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell has been attending bi-weekly meetings of the South Portland Fertilizer Working Group to assist the City in drafting a fertilizer ordinance.

 

  • July 20 marks the third anniversary of the launch of our Continuous Monitoring Station in Yarmouth. Our Monitoring Station is fondly nicknamed the “Cage of Science” because its high-tech sensors are housed inside a transformed lobster trap. The instruments measure temperature, salinity, oxygen, pH, and carbon dioxide.
    Photo by Kevin Morris

    Together, they collect data once an hour, every hour, year round.  At this time of year, Mike has to scrape off a new array of marine hitchhikers whenever he hauls up the Cage of Science to download data.

 

  • ‘Tis the season to think about what not to put on your lawn! With five workshops behind her, Associate Director Mary Cerullo has scheduled another five BayScaping presentations for August and beyond. She is happy to talk with neighborhood groups about green yards and a blue Bay.

 

  • There has been such a demand by community groups to volunteer for coastal cleanups and storm drain stenciling projects that Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman and summer intern Alexis Burns have been very busy. They already have hosted seven events with 106 participants who collected an estimated 238 lbs. of trash and stenciled 238 storm drains!

 

  • Photo by Kevin Morris

    Our new pumpout boat, Headmaster, was launched on June 10th to pump raw sewage from the marine toilets of recreational boats. Captain Jim Splude, our congenial pumpout boat coordinator, can go about his business more efficiently now with a new boat that has more than twice the holding capacity of the old one.

 

  • Our Water Reporter volunteer project is expanding as we hoped and planned. Nearly 40 enthusiastic volunteers attended our Water Reporter training on June 24. Volunteers continue to sign up to keep watch over specific areas of the Bay.
    July 10 was the first anniversary of Friends of Casco Bay’s launch of the Water Reporter app. To date, 162 volunteers in this observing network have made more than 500 posts. We call that a great start!