Charles River

Live Water Quality Data for the Lower Charles River

Buoy Located outside the Museum of Science

Water monitoring buoy in the Charles River near the Museum of Science.Water monitoring buoy in the Charles River near the Museum of Science.

Every 15 minutes, this self-contained solar powered buoy takes measurements for temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, specific conductance, turbidity, chlorophyll, and phycocyanin. The sensors on the buoy are located 1 meter below the water's surface. The data are transmitted in real-time using telemetry for remote access. The data from this buoy is used to assess water quality conditions and to help track cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms.

Data from the buoy are presented below. Learn more about location and structure of the buoy.

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Live Data Stream

The data presented on this website is considered preliminary data and may be subject to future revision or qualifiers. The data from this site is transmitted directly from the instrument with no or little review. Inaccuracies may be presented due to instrument malfunction or physical changes at the monitoring site.


Click on each of the eight types of measurements above to display that measurement. Click again to hide.
If you view multiple measurements simultaneously, the values shown on the Y-axis are values for the last measurement selected.

Live Data View #2 - View the live data in another graph that allows you to compare parameters to their associated water quality standards.

  • Temperature

    Water temperature is measured in degrees Celsius (°C) which can be converted to degrees Fahrenheit (°F) by multiplying by 9, dividing by 5, and then adding 32. The State of Massachusetts has established protective water quality standards for warm water fisheries in Class B waters (such as the Charles and Mystic Rivers). Water is not to exceed 28.3°C (83°F).

    Temperature controls many biological and chemical processes that take place in the water. If water gets too warm, it can harm fish and aquatic life, influence undesirable changes in biological communities and increase the likelihood of algal blooms.

    Humans can increase the water temperature by:

    • Removing trees and therefore shade from the river
    • Building structures that prevent infiltration and increase the temperature of stormwater run parking lots and black roofs
    • Discharging heated water from Power Plants into the River. Power plants' discharges are regulated to have minimum impact on fish and other organisms.
  • Specific Conductance (Conductivity)
    • Specific conductance is a measure of the ability of water to pass an electrical current. Specific conductance measurements are affected by the presence of dissolved solids such as salts. For example, sea water will have higher specific conductance and distilled water will have lower specific conductance. Specific Conductance is reported at 25 degrees Celsius (°C), and reported in millisiemens per centimeter (mS/cm).
    • In the Charles and Mystic Rivers, dams create a barrier between the salt and fresh water. These dams sometimes allow some saltwater to enter during high tides, lower river flows and during boat locking which can increase salt levels and thus specific conductance.
  • pH
    • pH measures how acidic or basic the water is. The range of pH goes from 0 - 14 Standard Units (S.U.), with 7 being neutral. A pH of less than 7 indicates acidity, whereas a pH of greater than 7 indicates a basic or alkaline condition. pH is reported in logarithmic units and each whole number represents a 10-fold change in the acidity/basicity of the water. Water with a pH of 5 is ten times more acidic than water having a pH of 6. Since pH can be affected by chemicals in the water, pH is an important indicator of water that is changing chemically.
    • The State of Massachusetts has established protective water quality standards for Class B waters (such as the Charles or Mystic Rivers). Class B waters are those that the State has determine should be suitable for fishing and swimming. Those standards indicate pH should be in the range of 6.5 through 8.3 and not more than 0.5 units outside of the natural background range.
    • Pollution can change the water's pH, which in turn can harm organisms living in the water. Lower pH readings are sometimes seen in fresher waters due to acid precipitation or even naturally-occurring organic acids, which can be found in bogs and some wetlands. High pH readings can occur during algae blooms due to chemical processes associated with photosynthesis.
  • Dissolved Oxygen

    Dissolved Oxygen (DO) measures how much oxygen is dissolved in the water. This is very important to fish and aquatic life that depend on an adequate supply of DO to live. DO is measured in milligrams per liter (mg/L) or percent saturation (%). Different organisms require different levels of DO. Generally, DO is lower at deeper depth where less mixing occurs with the surface water and where water becomes stratified.

    The State of Massachusetts has established protective water quality standards for warm water fisheries in Class B waters (such as the Charles or Mystic Rivers). The standards indicate that DO levels should not be less than 5 mg/L. When concentrations go below this level, sensitive organisms, such as some fish, may become stressed or die, especially if exposed to these conditions for prolonged periods.

    Several factors can affect the concentration of dissolved oxygen:

    • Temperature reduces the levels of dissolved oxygen since warmer water cannot dissolve as much oxygen as colder water.
    • Algae and other aquatic plants also have an effect on dissolved oxygen. How?
      • During the daylight, when the algae are photosynthesizing, they can produce more oxygen than is able to escape into the atmosphere, thus leading to short-term levels that can be greater than 100% (super saturated). At night time algae respire and consume oxygen. These daily swings can be quite large when there are algae blooms fueled by nutrient pollution, and can lead to poor aquatic conditions and fish kills.
    • When the algae dies or when other organic matter enters the system and decomposes, dissolved oxygen is consumed.
  • Turbidity

    Turbidity is one of the ways to determine water clarity by measuring of how much suspended material is in the water. Suspended materials can include soil particles (clay, silt, and sand), algae, plankton, microbes, and other substances. Turbidity is measured in Formazin Nephelometric Units (FNUs). Under normal condition, turbidity values are usually less than 10 FNUs at the Charles and Mystic Locations.

    Higher turbidity reduces the amount of light penetrating the water. Suspended materials can clog fish gills, reducing resistance to disease in fish, lowering growth rates, and affecting egg and larval development. As the particles settle, they can blanket the bottom, especially in slower moving waters, and smother fish eggs and benthic macroinvertebrates. Sources of turbidity include: urban runoff, soil erosion, waste discharge, eroding stream banks, excessive algal growth, dredging or anything that would resuspend bottom sediments.

  • Chlorophyll

    Chlorophyll is a green pigment found in plants, algae and cyanobacteria. Chlorophyll is extremely important in the photosynthesis process, which allows plants to absorb energy from light. Chlorophyll is measured using a fluorescence sensor.

    Some levels of chlorophyll and algae are healthy and provide the base of the food web. When too many nutrients enter the water, algae and cyanobacteria concentrations can take off and form "blooms". Blooms can be unhealthy for other organisms in the water, people, and pets in contact with the water. Chlorophyll is measured in Raw Fluorescent Units (RFUs).

  • Phycocyanin

    Phycocyanin is a pigment found in cyanobacteria that is measured in freshwater environments. Phycocyanin is measured using a fluorescence sensor. Phycocyanin is measured in Raw Fluorescent Units (RFUs).

    The phycocyanin measurement is used as a field screening for cyanobacteria and cyanobacteria blooms, also called blue green algae. When blooms are formed, the risk of toxin contamination of surface waters increases. Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, are of special concern because of their potential impacts on drinking and recreational waters. When a bloom is occurring, people should avoid contact with the water and keep their pets out of the water.

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