Water resources engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental and societal issues. Our student Grace Belisle makes this connection here…

In the North Eastern United States, every state is known for their trademarks. Whether it’s the ratio of the number of cows in Vermont to people, or Massachusetts’s ringing in of the American Revolution, its unique features are held dear to heart. For the state of Maine, it’s the coastline, the lumber industry, and wild blueberries. It’s also, lobster: a core little crustacean at the heart of Maine’s economy.

On February 4, 2016, The Portland Press Herald published an article titled “Main Lobster Industry Wary as Warm Waters Suggest Repeat of Disastrous 2012 Season”1. The basis of this article relies on data driven from the hydrology domain of WRE, specifically in the occurrence of rising water temperatures.

The “Disastrous 2012 Season” refers to what happened in May of 2012 in the Gulf of Maine. Water temperatures in the Gulf were mild for the winter, and in the spring of 2012, come May, were about as warm as they should have been in June. Lobsters move to the warmer waters for their molting season, so in May of 2012, lobsters were moving into the Gulf one month early. After the lobsters move into the warmer waters, they begin to molt, which is the process of shedding their outer, hard shell, so that it is replaced by a softer outside layer. The inflow of early lobsters, led to the “disaster” of 2012. To begin with, the replaced softer outside of the lobsters makes it more difficult for lobstermen to transport them. But the big grunt of the problem resulted in too many lobsters too soon. With the peak season arriving 6 weeks early, the customer’s lobster demand remained the same as usual for that time of year, and the lobstermen and the lobster industry were faced with having too many lobsters to sell, too soon. As the demand stayed stagnant, and the supply sky rocketed so early in the season (keeping in mind that when the demand raised to its normal levels, the supply would be low, and the leftover lobster not as fresh) the price of lobster dropped and the price paid to lobstermen dropped significantly. This year, hydrologists and scientists are predicting a similar happening. This time around water temperatures (at the time this article was published in February) were being measured as well above average, as shown in Figure 1. Surface water temperatures were measured to be even slightly warmer than what they were at the same time, back in 2012. This year, people explain that this being the warmest winter on record, brought by El Nino, is the reason for such warm waters. This time around, with watching the water temperatures and comparing between 2012 temperatures and now, Maine’s industry can prepare for the large amount of lobsters that may again be coming their way, too early. A second article2 published on March 21, 2016 published through the Portland Press Herald looks at more recent water temperatures recorded. Temperatures in mid-March were showing temperature readings that usually don’t appear till mid-April. A buoy in the Nantucket Shoals (located in the southern portion of the Gulf) read temperatures that were still above average, but slightly cooler than what they were in 2012 at that time. The combination of high temperatures, being not as high as in 2012, lead people to now believe that while lobsters may come in early, it wont be as early or as bad as in 2012. The hydrology related facts in the article are very accurate. The article states that El Nino is the cause of the warmer winter and the higher water temperatures. NOAA2 states that El Nino does influence both “weather patterns, ocean conditions, and marine fisheries across large portions of the globe”. In engineering it is also important to understand economics. The facts about the economics of supply and demand, and the economic disaster resulting in 2012 follow economic principles, as described in the textbook “Engineering Economic Analysis”4. This article does not include any specifics of what Maine’s industry can do to prepare for another season like 2012. Other information the article could discuss includes what other marine life will be affected as well, and how other industries will be affected, as well as what other waters in the north east will be experiencing similar conditions.

The broader context area affected by the happenings in this article are directly related to economics. The economic area of WRE shows the direct relationship between changes in hydrology and the economy of the local area. The affects of these warm water are having a direct impact on the amount of money lobstermen make in a season, as a result of supply and demand effects. In the paper “Valuing Lobster for Maine Coastal Tourism: Methodological Considerations”5 the existence of the coast of Maine’s dependency on lobster, and how it runs such a large part of the economy is addressed, relating how a change on lobster influx can have such a great effect on the economy. Increasing water temperatures, because of El Nino, but also because of the general trend of water warming due to to climate change, will have a direct effect on how Maine’s lobster industry handle’s its seasons, and it will have to adjust for another warm summer, as well as possible warm summers to come.




Figure 1. from article in Portland Press Herald, showing temperatures for the past year above average


URL: http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/04/lobster-industry-wary-as-warm-waters-suggest-repeat-of-disastrous-2012/




  1. Murphy E. Main Lobster Industry Wary as Waters Suggest Repeat of Disastrous 2012 Season. The Portland Press Herald. http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/04/lobster-industry-wary-as-warm-waters-suggest-repeat-of-disastrous-2012/ Published February 4, 2016. Accessed April 24, 2016.


  1. Woodard C. Warm Waters off Maine Point to Repeat of “Ocean Heatwave”. The Portland Press Herald. http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/21/record-warm-winter-raises-concern-over-another-ocean-heat-wave-in-gulf-of-maine/ Published March 21, 2016. Accessed April 24, 2016.


  1. National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration Staff. What are El Nino and La Nina? NOAA Ocean Service. http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/ninonina.html. Accessed: April 30, 2016.


  1. Newnan D, Lavelle J, Eschenbach T. Engineering Economic Analysis. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press: 2014


  1. Daniel H, Allen T, Bragg L, Teisl M, Bayer R, Billings C. Valuing lobster for Maine coastal tourism: methodological considerations. Journal Of Foodservice [serial online]. April 2008;19(2):133-138. Available from: Business Source Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed April 30, 2016.