Water clarity is a strong indicator of regional water quality. Unlike other common water-quality metrics, such as chlorophyll a, total P, or trophic status, clarity can be accurately and efficiently estimated remotely on a regional scale. Satellite-based remote sensing is useful in regions with many lakes where traditional field-sampling techniques may be prohibitively expensive. Repeated sampling of easily accessed lakes can lead to spatially irregular, nonrandom samples of a region. Remote sensing remedies this problem. We applied a remote monitoring protocol we had previously developed for Maine lakes >8 ha based on Landsat satellite data recorded during 1995–2010 to identify spatial and temporal patterns in Maine lake clarity. We focused on the overlapping region of Landsat paths 11 and 12 to increase availability of cloud-free images in August and early September, a period of relative lake stability and seasonal poor-clarity conditions well suited for annual monitoring. We divided Maine into 3 regions (northeastern, south-central, western) based on morphometric and chemical lake features. We found a general decrease in average statewide lake clarity from 4.94 to 4.38 m during 1995–2010. Water clarity ranged from 4 to 6 m during 1995–2010, but it decreased consistently during 2005–2010. Clarity in both the northeastern and western lake regions has decreased from 5.22 m in 1995 to 4.36 and 4.21 m, respectively, in 2010, whereas lake clarity in the south-central lake region (4.50 m) has not changed since 1995. Climate change, timber harvesting, or watershed morphometry may be responsible for regional water-clarity decline. Remote sensing of regional water clarity provides a more complete spatial perspective of lake water quality than existing, interest-based sampling. However, field sampling done under existing monitoring programs can be used to calibrate accurate models designed to estimate water clarity remotely.
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