New tide sensors, including one at Portland’s Back Cove, will help the Gulf of Maine Research Institute identify high-risk flooding areas.

“Knowing the tide levels is only part of the battle, and the rest depends on understanding the specific impacts this will have on the area of study, so that local communities can respond appropriately,” said Hannah Baranes, a researcher at GMRI.

GMRI is using a $50,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Civic Innovation Challenge program for the first phase of the project, which is being conducted in partnership with U.S. Harbors, an organization that provides marine weather, tides and harbor-local boating and fishing information in 30 states. The first phase includes the Back Cove installation, along with the placement of sensors at Boothbay and St. George. 

Portland has had tide sensors in the past, but not at Back Cove, Baranes said. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has made historical measurements of water levels and currents at a few spots around Portland, and has had a sensor situated on the Fore River since 1910.

Tide measurements have been “spotty,” said Portland Harbormaster Kevin Battle. The new sensor should give more accurate readings of tidal activity, and a few more may be installed around the harbor and Casco Bay, he said.

In the next phase of the project, Baranes said, they hope to “focus on deepening the engagement with communities we’ve been working with.


One solution she hopes to work on is an alert system with communities so that they can close parking areas prior to flooding, for example. 

“Right now there’s sort of an unprecedented amount of funding for coastal adaptation,” Baranes said, “so a question on our minds is how can we leverage the information we’re gathering to support communities in accessing that funding for implementing solutions.” 

By 2050, she said, Portland could be seeing flooding 100 days out of the year, as opposed to the five or six days it now experiences annually, so planning for the future is imperative.

GMRI has been working with the company Hohonu to install some of their solar-powered sensors, as well testing sensors from a company called Obscape, which uses radar technology. 

Because Maine has 5,000 miles of coastline, research projects like this take a lot of collaboration, Baranes said. Only 30 tidal gauges had been installed across the state prior to the GMRI project, leaving some coastal communities without an accurate reading of how sea level rising may impact them, she said.

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