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Citizen scientists to monitor sea-level rise in Belfast Bay

By Kendra Caruso | Sep 28, 2020
Photo by: Kendra Caruso People gather at the docks on Belfast Bay Sept. 22 for a demonstration about the city's new citizen scientist initiative to monitor sea-level rise in the bay.

Belfast — The Climate Crisis Committee launched its new citizen scientist program via Zoom from the Belfast Free Library Sept. 21 to monitor sea-level rise in Belfast Bay and use that information for decision-making about how to adapt to this aspect of climate change.

The project is the culmination of over a year of planning by the committee, Gulf of Maine Research Institute, community members and a group of high school students, along with their teacher. There are seven markers along the bay where participants can take photos and submit them to the Gulf of Maine Research website’s online portal, according to Climate Crisis Committee Chairman Jon Beal.

Researchers evaluate the photos to determine wave heights, storm surges and low and high tide measurements. Results are shared with the National Weather Service office in Gray, where the agency will compare them to predictive storm impact modeling it conducts.

During high tide at the city pier while the windy remnants of hurricane Teddy moved over Maine, Beal led about a dozen people Sept. 22 to some of the project sites. He discussed how to take the research photos and what information is gathered from them.

The seven sites are at City Park, the Boathouse, Breakwater Town Pier, the east side of the Armistice Bridge, a culvert on Robbins Road, and the Stevenson Rangeway in East Belfast. The sites were chosen because of their community value and their vulnerability to flooding, Beal said.

Participants can submit photos from anywhere in Belfast Bay, as long as they provide the GPS coordinates, Beal said, not just the seven documented locations. Other information the committee hopes to gather is what sites around the bay community members value.

The Climate Crisis Committee originally wanted to use a sensor to monitor sea-level rise, but did not have funding for the necessary equipment, Beal said. Using the open-source electronics platform arduino, Belfast high school students are putting together a single-board microcontroller for the project as part of an engineering class led by teacher Dave Thomas.

The committee first considered the project idea two years ago when it was putting together a three-part city sea-level rise report, Beal said. There was not a lot of information about local water data on the bay, which hindered some information gathering for the report.

If no action is taken, the earth is expected to experience a 1-foot-to-8-foot sea-level rise by the end of the century, but the Gulf of Maine is expected to see a 1-foot-to-10-foot rise, according to Gayle Bowness of Gulf of Maine Research, who spoke at the launch via Zoom. Currently, the earth has already experienced an 8-inch-to-10-inch sea-level rise.

Rising carbon emissions into the atmosphere from human activity are causing a global warming trend that is melting glaciers and heating water to the point where it expands, she said. One of the Paris Accord goals is to prevent sea-level rise globally from exceeding 3 feet.

Beal said Belfast’s downtown area is mostly situated on a hill, so it will not experience flooding into downtown streets, but the bay could rise as high as Water Street. The city sewer plant is in an area that could become submerged in the future.

Besides this endeavor, Beal said he and another community member are conducting water quality testing on the bay for other organizations in the state. But he hopes young people in the city will take the baton and keep this project alive for decades.

Climate Crisis Committee Chairman Jon Beal discusses the city's new citizen scientist program Sept. 22 at the city dock. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
One of those gathered Sept. 22 near the Belfast dock views a sign, posted at one of the designated citizen scientist sites, which explains the program. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
Climate Crisis Committee Chairman Jon Beal, right, speaks to about a dozen people Sept. 22 on the city dock about the new citizen scientist program. (Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
(Photo by: Kendra Caruso)
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