Nantucket's Water Temperature Needs To Be Explored

Maureen Searle •

To the editor: Water temperature is not a topic high on everyone’s mind but it may be critical for understanding not only water quality but future storms.

I give the Current credit for listing in its publications water temperature. Ironically that may be to notify swimmers that, at 76 degrees F, for example, it will be very pleasant for swimmers.

Roberto Santamaria, the director of health, recently attributed the stinking mess of seaweed that washed up on Jetties Beach to the water temperature. Many of us who have walked Jetties Beach have experienced the big seaweed pile-up but have never known the seaweed to smell like it did during the recent incident.

I remember the first time that I realized that the water on shore was a lot warmer than I recall when younger. I put my hand in the water at Commercial Beach during the summer and was startled to feel how warm it was. I well remember when I was younger taking the cold plunge off Jetties in June. The water was stimulating. It was not warm.

While I am glad for the data that the Current is providing, what is needed, if this issue is to be taken seriously, is a systematic measurement of water temperature at various points around the island. It is a task for a scientific organization like the Maria Mitchell. Students could be engaged during the summer to help with the project. We know, for example, that water temperature on the ocean side of the island should be cooler than that on the harbor side but that needs to be tested. Pond water also should be tested for temperature.

It seems that the toxic algae blooms are increasing in size in the ponds. Yes, that may well be due to run-off from septic systems and fertilizer, but water temperature cannot be ruled out.

I also worry about water temperature because of what it means for the ferocity of storms. We know that the hurricanes in the Caribbean are growing in size and strength because of the water temperature. The ocean water was 101 degrees F off the coast of Southern Florida.

To be sure, there is a big difference between water temperatures in the seventies and those over 100 degrees F, but the rising water temperature in Nantucket would seem to be a cause of the tropical climate that the island is increasingly experiencing.

Again, many of us can remember the days when air conditioning was not necessary. One could sleep at night by simply opening the windows. But those days are no more for most residents.

When someone from the outside checks Nantucket’s routine temperature during the summer, they see the temperatures during the days stay mostly in the seventies. That would seem comfortable, and a far cry from Boston or NYC, where a steaming temperature in the eighties is very common during the summer.

But the problem is that the night time temperature is very close to the day time temperature. And the dew point is very high. My very smart mother explained to me that I should watch the dew point not just the temperature if I wanted to understand how humid it would be outside. This was important to me because I took very long walks—hikes really—and would arrive home saturated in sweat because of the humidity.

I have asked public officials and environmental organizations to monitor water temperature but none seems to be interested. I am hoping that this letter sparks some interest. At the very least, it should provide another explanation, or an additional one, for when residents hear about the stinking seaweed, toxic algae blooms in ponds, and very uncomfortable weather.

Maureen Searle

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