Friday, May 6, 2016

Eyes Over Puget Sound: How's the water? And what's under it??

Click to view the May report here

Our marine monitoring team goes out several times a month to check the pulse of Puget Sound and Washington's coastal bays. Once a month, we bring you Eyes over Puget Sound. Because of their work, it's common for them to get the question:

How's the water quality in Puget Sound?

This seems like a simple question, but it can mean many different things. When you wonder about water quality in Puget Sound, what are you really interested in? Is it safe to go swimming? How will El NiƱo impact our water? Is it safe to harvest shellfish? Should I be worried about about pollution and toxins?

Visit the field impressions section of this month's Eyes Over Puget Sound report to learn answers to these questions and dive deeper into the discussion.

But really, how's the water?

May 2016 Eyes Over Puget Sound
Scroll through to see images from the flight, or
follow the link to Flickr to view the entire album.
Water temperatures are still higher than normal and groups of jellyfish are already going strong in southern inlets. Normally, we don't start seeing jellyfish "smacks," or schools of jellyfish, popping up around Puget Sound until later in the season. After last year's Year of the Jellyfish and observing populations holding steady throughout winter, we expect another summer full of jellies.

Our sunny and dry spring means air temperatures are higher than usual for this time of year. We're seeing these temps 7 °F warmer than typical in the mountains, which means the snowpack we built over the winter is quickly disappearing. Our rivers that are fed by snow-melt are running very high.

How does warm weather affect water quality in Puget Sound? 

Sunny weather means lots of growth! We observed a strong spring phytoplankton bloom extend across Puget Sound and through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This high growth of plankton, algae and plant matter was evident across the Sound in large floating mats of organic debris.

Often, this material ends up on our beaches looking like strange waves of seaweed and muck. Sometimes, these mats of plants begin to decompose on beaches and cause a stinky mess.

What's underwater? A Sand Star!

This month, our Eyes Under Puget Sound taxonomists have featured a familiar creature for the Critter of the Month: The Sand Star. Did you know the Sand Star can move up to nine feet per minute?

Learn more in our field impressions section of the report. Read about marine sediment animals monthly by following our Critter of the Month blog series.

What's Eyes Over Puget Sound?

Eyes Over Puget Sound combines high-resolution photo observations with satellite images, ferry data from travel between Seattle and Victoria BC, and measurements from our moored instruments. We use a seaplane to travel between our monitoring stations because they are so far apart. Once a month, we take photos of Puget Sound water conditions and turn those out, along with data from our stations, in the monthly Eyes Over Puget Sound report.

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