Rye Beach bathers wondering: Is the water warmer?

Scientific evidence seems lacking, one way or the other

Margaret Carroll

Here they come down the path to the beach. They’re pulling carts, and carrying surf boards, cell phones, beach chairs and umbrellas, cameras, sun screen. They pass friendly greetings as they come and go. It used to be that they asked, “How’s the water today?” You don’t hear that very often now. It’s just expected that the water is a comfortable warm. More people are in the water, and they stay longer. No more cold hands and feet. “Is the water really getting warmer? Is it true?” they ask. Veteran beach goers say yes. “It’s not as cold as it when I was a child.”

Enjoying warm waters this past August     (Judy Palm photo)

Can we back up our nonscientific observations? According to scientists from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in West Boothbay Harbor, it’s hard to tell. In order to speak with any certitude, you need at least ten years of information and consistent monitoring to understand global climate changes and how it is affecting everything “from squid to smog”, according to a Boston Globe article on Aug. 18. Without the data, they could miss vital changes that will impact people’s lives. They need more observations and rely on the U.S. government to invest over a long period of time in order to understand what’s changed in our climate.

The University of New Hampshire College of Engineering and Physical Science has been keeping records of water temperatures and has four years of data (see chart below). While the researchers don’t measure water temperature along the New Hampshire coast, they have developed a chart with comparisons from Casco Bay, Maine, to Boston Harbor (2004-2008). They say there are very few significant changes in four years and a longer study is needed.

Water Temperature Chart in six month intervals from 2004 to 2008 in Casco Bay, Maine(red) and Boston Harbor(green). There is no water temperature data available for the New Hampshire seacoast.  

Closer to home we met with Sue Reynolds, Captain of Uncle Oscar, the ferry to the Isles of Shoals and also Lobster Tours that depart from Rye Harbor. Sue has been navigating the waters around Rye for many years and is knowledgeable about currents, weather, temperatures and navigation. We asked Sue two questions:

1. Over the years that you have been taking Uncle Oscar to the Isles of Shoals and back to Rye, have you noticed any changes in water temperature?

Yes, I have noticed that the water seems to be getting warmer earlier in the season. I have observed this trend since childhood on the beach in Hampton and on various boats that I have operated out of Rye Harbor. As a child the water numbed me through most of July. In recent years people have told me how wonderful the water feels. I personally no longer have the time to swim in the summer. The water in the spring is relatively cold as it has always been. In my childhood and as a young adult, the water rarely reached 62 degrees by the beginning of August. This year the water has been well above 60 degrees throughout most of August. Often reaching 68 degrees even 3 to 5 miles from shore. As has always been the case, when there is an offshore breeze the water temperature cools off.  It's particularly true when there is a sea breeze (blowing in from the ocean) that you notice the increased temperatures.

2. If there is a noticeable change in water temperature has it affected managing your boat?

When operating Uncle Oscar to and from the Isles of Shoals, I watch water temperature on my depth sounder constantly.Water temperature affects many things.

Examples are:

For now we’ll opt for warmer water, and we’ll carry big towels to wrap up after a swim. We can also bring sweat shirts for walking on our beautiful beach in late August and September.

Go to Letters in November,2008

September, 2008