Friends of Casco Bay has been collecting water quality data on the health of the Bay for 29 years. A recent analysis of our seasonal long term dataset shows that water temperatures are on the rise in Casco Bay.
“It’s alarming to see we’re going in the wrong direction,” said Staff Scientist Mike Doan. “There are so many ways that warmer water can impact the Bay. A primary concern is that warm water species are moving in and cold water species are moving out. Invasive green crabs, for example, thrive when the Bay is warmer. On top of species shifting, we are also looking at a system that is increasingly susceptible to nitrogen pollution. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.”
When Mike says warmer waters make the Bay more susceptible to nitrogen pollution, he is thinking about how excess nitrogen can lead to lower levels of oxygen in the water. Nitrogen pollution comes from sources such as stormwater and wastewater treatment facilities. When excess nitrogen enters the Bay, it can spur the rapid growth of plant life and algae. When these plants inevitably decompose, they can consume so much of the oxygen in the water that aquatic animals like fish and shellfish struggle to breathe, and can even die.
On the whole, Casco Bay contains healthy levels of oxygen. However, water temperature and oxygen have an inverse relationship. Warm water holds less oxygen than cold water, and as water temperatures in the Bay rise, Mike has observed a corresponding decline in dissolved oxygen (a measure of how much oxygen is in the Bay).
“There’s a very healthy amount of oxygen in the Bay right now, and the decline we’re observing is moving at a slow pace,” said Mike. “However, it’s important to keep our eye on this trend. As climate change causes the Bay to warm, oxygen levels will continue to decrease. With it, the impacts of nitrogen pollution and associated drops in oxygen will grow.”
Scientists up and down the New England coastline are reporting similar trends in temperature and dissolved oxygen. At Friends of Casco Bay, these trends are based on Mike’s analysis of a subset of 29 years of our seasonal sampling data. Specifically, Mike looked at data from three locations in the Bay that we access by boat near Fort Gorges, Clapboard Island, and in Broad Sound. At each of these sites we collect data at the water’s surface, and then every two meters down to the bottom of the Bay, to create a “profile” of the water column. Every one of these data points is included in Mike’s analysis, making him confident that these trends accurately reflect changing conditions in Casco Bay.
* The exact rates: water temperatures are rising at 0.99°F per decade and dissolved oxygen levels are decreasing at 0.091mg/L per decade.