A Field Guide to Aquatic Phenomena
Academic institutions and government agencies receive numerous inquiries from concerned citizens who believe a water body has been polluted. Often, the case of “contamination” is something attributable to nature. At present, a comprehensive and easilyaccessed source of information on the natural phenomena of lakes and streams is lacking. We propose to develop a pilot Field Guide to Aquatic Phenomena as a web-based publication intended for Maine citizens interested in what’s going on at their lake, pond, or stream. The products, a website linked to PEARL — the Maine Lakes Database, and color brochure, will also be geared towards improving public understanding of the natural variation in aquatic ecosystems and anthropogenic pollution issues.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) receives numerous inquiries from citizens about observations in lakes and streams. To the non-scientist, it can be bewildering to identify and understand the causes of things seen, heard, or smelled in and around lakes and streams. In particular, casual observers may not be familiar with the temporal and spatial dynamics typical of aquatic ecosystems. Answers can be hard to find, and distinguishing between natural variation in the appearance of water bodies and pollution from human activities is difficult. The DEP has several links on its web page to answer such questions and other webbased sources exist, but are scattered, incomplete, and not specific to Maine water resources. We propose to build on these existing sites to provide a more comprehensive and coordinated guide that will include photographs and educational materials.
Results and Benefits
Our proposal is to develop a pilot Field Guide to Aquatic Phenomena website. Photographs and descriptions of common freshwater phenomena, both natural and anthropogenic, will be arranged in an easy-to-use format. Aquatic scientists will serve as contributors and reviewers, and representatives from state and federal agencies will be consulted to ensure that the guide is comprehensive. In addition, citizens and scientists will be able to contribute pictures and observations to be incorporated into the website. A section of the Field Guide will be devoted to the interpretation of water quality data available on the PEARL website (www.pearl.maine.edu – Public Educational Access to Environmental Information in Maine), since such interpretation is a challenge for the lay person.
PEARL is the on-line GIS-based, searchable database for Maine lakes. When collaborators visualized the PEARL concept, information on Maine's 5,700 lakes resided in computer and paper files in several state agencies, in unconnected computer files of a dozen researchers around the state, and in hard copy reports and publications. Over the years, PEARL has expanded to become the on-line resource for environmental information in Maine. It allows scientists, educators, community organizations, and students to find environmental information in one location.
By transferring scientific information from university and government scientists to citizens, the Field Guide will raise environmental awareness of natural variation in aquatic ecosystems. Such a guide will be useful to agency staff who devote considerable time responding to questions on fairly routine lake and stream events. This project is also intended to protect water resources by aiding the early identification of potentially harmful pollution problems as well as explaining the rich and unusual natural phenomena that occur in aquatic ecosystems.