A new app developed by a University of Maine graduate student allows iPhone users to take water quality measurements.
“The end result we want is to crowdsource water quality data,” says the 23-year-old oceanography student from Lincoln, Vt.
As part of his master’s thesis, Thomas Leeuw developed HydroColor, an app that uses three photos to measure the reflectance of natural water bodies. Based on the reflectance values, the turbidity or level of suspended sediment in a given water body can be measured.
“What we’re measuring is the reflectance of the water and the particles inside it,” Leeuw says. “To make reflectance measurements, oceanographers use precision instruments called radiometers. HydroColor is taking what a lot of ocean scientists do with radiometers and satellites, and applying it to an iPhone camera.”
The process requires three photographs, beginning with a photographer’s gray card, which calibrates the app based on how much ambient illumination is present. Gray cards reflect 18 percent of the light in the area, giving the app an initial reading of how much light is entering the water.
Next, the app directs the user to take a photograph of the sky. The app uses this image to control for the amount of light from the sky that is being reflected by the surface of the water. Surface reflection — such as the blue color seen when looking at a body of water on a clear day — offers no information about the turbidity of the water because it is light reflected by the surface of the water, not reflected from particles suspended in it.
The final photograph taken is of the water itself, which the app evaluates after controlling for surface reflection. The magnitude of reflected light in the red portion of the visible spectrum can be used to assess turbidity.
The reflected light can also offer information about the type of particles in the water.
“Turbidity actually is a measure of sidescattering, but you can use it to estimate the concentration of particles, in grams per meter cubed, so we’re able to convert turbidity to physical values,” Leeuw says.
In addition, the makeup of particles can be inferred based on the color of light reflected. Organic particles typically contain pigments that absorb light only in certain regions of the visible spectrum. This will cause the reflectance signal to vary across the visible spectrum. Inorganic particles do not contain pigments and their reflectance signature does not vary greatly across the visible spectrum.
By aggregating data from many people over large spatial and temporal scales, HydroColor can determine the typical turbidity or chlorophyll values for different environments. The interactive online database can then be used by laypeople or lake association officials to help monitor for changes, such as increased occurrence of algal blooms or erosion leading to higher suspended sediment.
Turbidity is one of many parameters for measuring water quality. Chlorophyll, for instance, reflects mostly green light and can offer a measure of the amount of algal particles in the water body. Using the different reflectance characteristics, Leeuw says HydroColor could be expanded to offer a more comprehensive readout of water quality measurements.
Leeuw next hopes to find an online host for user-gathered water quality data. “Eventually we’re going to have a button in the app so after you take a measurement, you can upload it to an online database,” he says. “The idea is that the database is open to everyone, it is a place where people can look at and compare measurements from all over the world.”
Understanding how water quality parameters like turbidity change over time is critical for scientists in many fields, Leeuw says. “One turbidity level is not necessarily better than another. We’re just very interested in fluctuations. It’s a tool for looking at changes in the environment.”
Leeuw hopes HydroColor will also provide an inexpensive, accessible learning tool for science classrooms. Compared to a professional radiometer, which can be cost-prohibitive for most classrooms, iPhones are becoming ubiquitous among students, and gray cards generally cost less than $5.
“It’s an extremely cheap lesson using a lot of technology. You can not only use it to learn about environmental science, but optics, technology and app development,” Leeuw says. “Right now, it is only for iPhone, but we’re thinking about hiring a developer to convert it to Android as well.”
Although he had experience programming before turning to app development, Leeuw had to teach himself Objective-C, the language used for the iOS platform. But developing HydroColor demanded more than learning a new programming language. The project has been in progress for about two years, a time span that has allowed Leeuw and his adviser, UMaine professor Emmanuel Boss, to gather hundreds of photos while on other excursions.
“We’d always be doing our other research, but then we’d run over and snap a few pictures to continue with development,” Leeuw says. “We used (research) trips of opportunity — anywhere we’d go, we’d make sure to grab some data.”
Those “trips of opportunity” have allowed Leeuw to aggregate images from all over the coast of Maine, Georgia and Washington, and many locations in the Arctic. Leeuw sailed to the Arctic with Boss as part of a project to study Arctic phytoplankton.
Now that HydroColor is available in the Apple app store, Leeuw’s goal is in sight. He presented his app to the Ocean Sciences Meeting in Honolulu in February and hopes to publish the project in a journal.
Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745
A new study by University of Maine economist Todd Gabe was cited in a Bangor Daily News article titled “LePage says Maine could lead the nation — and maybe Quebec — in syrup production.” Gabe’s study, which received financial support from the Maine Agricultural Development Grant Fund and the Maine Maple Producers Association, showed the state’s syrup industry contributes nearly $49 million to Maine’s economy and supports more than 800 jobs. The figures include multiplier effects. The Sun Journal also carried the BDN report.
The Bangor Daily News reported Charles Porter, a research associate for the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute and well-known mountain climber, passed away Feb. 23, 2014 at the age of 63. Paul Mayewski, director and distinguished professor of the Climate Change Institute, and Brenda Hall, a professor in the institute and UMaine’s School of Earth and Climate Sciences, shared their memories of Porter with the BDN. Mayewski said, “Charlie had a very rare ability and a staunch drive to understand as much as he could about the physical, chemical, biological and socio-cultural aspects of some of Earth’s most remote places.” Hall called Porter a “one-of-a-kind person” who was always up for an adventure.
The Portland Press Herald interviewed David Townsend, an oceanography professor in the University of Maine’s School of Marine Sciences, for an article about two major oil companies exploring potential drilling sites in water off Nova Scotia that could generate opportunities for Maine businesses, but also threaten the state’s fisheries. Townsend spoke about currents in the proposed exploration area. He said because of the circular currents in the Gulf of Maine, a major spill could cause highly diluted trace oil to reach coastal waters in Maine.
University of Maine School of Performing Arts’ students Christian Giddings, Megan Rounds and Sydney Walker spoke with WABI (Channel 5) about the school’s spring break production of the child-friendly folktale “Baba Yaga and the Black Sunflower.” The students are performing the play on campus March 22, as well as at several schools around the state. Walker said performing the play is a nice way to be able to give back to the community. Carol Korty, professor emerita at Emerson College and a guest artist at UMaine, wrote and directs the play about a young girl who doesn’t fit in, and a witch that lives in a walking house. Korty told WABI the tour is a good learning experience for the students to see what it’s like to be on the road.
Jesse Moriarity, coordinator of the University of Maine’s Foster Center for Student Innovation, was quoted in a Portland Press Herald article about a 16-year-old from Cape Elizabeth, Maine who is creating digital games for the Apple store. Moriarity said technology companies such as Apple are increasingly targeting a younger demographic in hopes of creating customers for life.
The Maine Music Teachers Association and the University of Maine School of Performing Arts announce the second biennial Monster Piano Festival on Saturday, March 8, at Minsky Recital Hall on the Orono campus.
What is a monster piano? It’s 113 students in grades 4 through 12 and several adults simultaneously playing 11 pianos. That’s 226 hands, or 1,130 fingers tickling 968 keys.
After a day of rehearsals with UMaine music instructor and conductor Ginger Yang Hwalek, the 113 people from 18 piano studios in Maine will perform in concert at 5 p.m. Donations will be accepted at the door.
Two or three pianists will be seated at each of the 11 pianos on stage during the concert, which will include a mix of classical and jazz and pieces written by composers who specialize in creating music for emerging pianists. Music teachers will also play a selection.
Emmanuel Boss, professor of oceanography, received a $23,445 U.S. Department of the Interior (USGS) grant for the proposal, “Suspended sediments in the San Francisco Bay: Algorithm development and validation.” The objective is to map the nearshore magnitude and distribution of suspended sediments in the Suisun/Grizzly Bay region of the San Francisco Bay — as close to the shoreline of Rush Ranch as possible. In their approach, Boss’ research team will use several remote sensing platforms — airplanes and satellites — with fine-scale spatial resolution to alleviate land adjacency effects. Employing a suite of different fine-scale platforms will increase the possibility of successful overflight imagery collection, since fine-scale remote sensors do not have advantageous return times. This approach will demonstrate the utility of using remotely sensed suspended sediments for providing input into a model for regions where continuous monitoring of turbidity may not exist or where discrete suspended sediment values are not available.
The Maine maple syrup that enhances the flavor of pancakes and ice cream also adds to the statewide economy.
University of Maine economist Todd Gabe says, including multiplier effects, Maine’s maple industry annually contributes about $49 million in revenue, 805 full- and part-time jobs and $25 million in wages to the state’s economy.
Multiplier effects occur when an increase in one economic activity initiates a chain reaction of additional spending. In this case, the additional spending is by maple farms, businesses that are part of the maple industry and their employees.
“The maple producers were really helpful in providing me with information about their operations, which allowed for a really detailed analysis of their economic impact,” says Gabe, whose study was released in February.
Each year, the industry directly contributes about $27.7 million in revenue, 567 full- and part-time jobs, and $17.3 million in wages to Maine’s economy, Gabe says.
Maple producers earn about 75 percent of the revenue through sales of syrup and other maple products, including maple candy, maple taffy, maple whoopie pies and maple-coated nuts, he says.
Retail sales at food stores and the estimated spending of Maine Maple Sunday visitors on items such as gasoline and meals accounts for the remainder of revenue. This year, Maine Maple Sunday will be celebrated Sunday, March 23 at 88 sugar shacks and farms across the Pine Tree state.
Maine has the third-largest maple industry in the United States. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, maple syrup is produced in 10 states — Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin.
In 2013, Maine accounted for 450,000 gallons, or 14 percent, of the 3,253,000 million gallons produced in the U.S. Vermont (1,320,000 gallons) and New York (574,000) were the top two producers. Among the three top-producing states, Maine had the highest growth rate (25 percent) of production between 2011 and 2013, Gabe reports.
In Maine, the maple production industry appears to be dominated by a few large operations; the 10 percent of maple farms with 10,000 or more taps account for 86 percent of the total number of taps in the state, he says.
While the maple producers that participated in Gabe’s study had an average of 4,109 taps, almost 40 percent of Maine’s maple producers had fewer than 250 taps. The study participants have been tapping trees and boiling sap for an average of 24 years.
Depending on temperature and water availability, the length of the sap flow season varies; in 2013 it ran from March 4 to April 12 in Maine.
Close to 40 percent of the maple producers that are licensed in Maine returned surveys for the study, which received financial support from the Maine Agricultural Development Grant Fund and the Maine Maple Producers Association.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
James Warhola, a political science professor and chair of the the Political Science Department at the University of Maine, spoke with the Portland Press Herald for the article “Russian actions of significant interest to U.S.” Warhola, an expert on Russian, Turkish and Eurasian politics, said Russia and the U.S. have collaborated against terrorist threats, especially from Islamic extremists. He said the U.S. and Russian anti-terrorism cooperation has been broader and more effective than many people realize.
Habib Dagher, director of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, was quoted in a Bloomberg Businessweek article about the offshore wind pilot project proposed by Maine Aqua Ventus, a consortium that includes UMaine and partner companies. In the article, “Floating wind farms venture farther out to sea,” Dagher said Maine Aqua Ventus companies will save tens of millions of dollars by using floating concrete platforms as opposed to renting barges and cranes to install fixed-foundation turbines. He said ideally the unit will be towed back to shore every 20 years to have a next-generation turbine installed.
The Penobscot Bay Pilot published the article “Saying bon voyage to the Hutchinson Center’s Nancy Boyington, a real friend” about Boyington’s retirement after 25 years within the University of Maine System. Boyington spent 14 of those years at UMaine’s Hutchinson Center in Belfast where she was assistant director of the center. Boyington said working at the center was the best job she ever had. “If you know you’re doing good work and making a difference, it’s the best,” she said.
University of Maine graduate student Noah Oppenheim was interviewed for a Hawaii News Now story about marine scientists and students attending the 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting in Honolulu who participated in dives to clean up debris littering a coral reef. Oppenheim, who is pursuing dual degrees in marine biology and marine policy at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole, helped remove trash from the reef, including fast food containers, bits of plastic, aluminum cans, a car battery, an outboard motor and an automobile tire.
WVII (Channel 7) reported University of Maine School of Performing Arts students will perform the child-friendly folktale “Baba Yaga and the Black Sunflower” on campus March 22, as well as at schools around the state during spring break. Carol Korty, professor emerita at Emerson College and a guest artist at UMaine, wrote and directs the folktale about a young girl who doesn’t fit in, and a witch that lives in a walking house. Korty said she hopes the performances will be a learning experience for audience members and the UMaine students in the play. “For our college students, they see the effect of theater on young children, and notice the difference,” she said.
The Weekly published an article on the University of Maine Museum of Art’s role within the community and its current exhibitions — “From Piranesi to Picasso: Master Prints from the Permanent Collection,” Hannah Cole’s “Time’s Wife” and Kenny Cole’s “Parabellum (Prepare for War).” George Kinghorn, the museum’s director and curator, said the museum isn’t just about the building and what it contains, but how it can grow a sense of place and a notion of community. He added, “The museum brings works to Bangor that Maine people otherwise may not have a chance to see.”
Kathryn Hopkins, a University of Maine Cooperative Extension educator and professor, spoke with the Portland Press Herald about Maine’s maple syrup season and how the colder weather, mixed with warm spells, has been affecting it. Hopkins said some producers in southern Maine have been able to make syrup during the brief warm temperatures, but a lot of people are still waiting for warmer weather before they begin to tap. She said she’s not worried about the late start, and if the weather warms up in a few weeks, there would still be a six-week season.
WABI (Channel 5) previewed the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s program on alternative fuels for farming equipment and transportation to be held in Dover-Foxcroft on March 13. The program is free and co-sponsored by the Maine Highlands Farmers.
Seacoast Online published a report on the Northeast Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition that will be hosted by the University of New Hampshire’s computer science department March 14–16. The University of Maine’s Cyber Defense Team is slated to compete in the event. One winner and one alternate will be selected to represent the Northeast region at the national competition in Texas during April.
WABI (Channel 5) previewed the University of Maine’s third annual Summer Camp Fair for Kids scheduled March 12 in the New Balance Student Recreation Center on campus. Representatives from more than 60 Maine summer camps are expected to be on hand to provide informational materials and answer questions about the programming available for children and teens. The event is free and open to the public.
The Weekly carried a report on the Penobscot Valley Senior College and the spring courses it is offering starting March 11. The college is affiliated with the University of Maine Center on Aging and the Maine Senior College Network. It offers noncredit courses and learning opportunities such as local history, painting and health care for people 50 years and older.