NERRS Data Reveals Chesapeake Bay’s Climate History

Mar 15, 2018 | Chesapeake Bay, Maryland

Project web site
How will climate shape life on the Chesapeake in the future? Our Maryland and Virginia reserves have worked with partners to answer that question by looking to the past.

In a sweeping study that looked at 26 climate indicators and 114 years of meteorological data from 1895 to 2014, they found clear evidence that physical changes as a result of a shifting climate are well underway in the region. The team has been sharing their results with a range of stakeholders.

The Changing Chesapeake Project is a collaboration of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, Chesapeake Environmental Communications, and the Chesapeake Bay reserves.

“Understanding and acting on the impacts of climate change depends on our ability to collect the data and to work together to analyze and share it,” observes Trystan Sill, education assistant for the Maryland Reserve, which along with the Virginia reserve and the National Weather Service, serves as a sentinel site for monitoring regional climate change and provided data for the study.

Over the past 100 years, air and water temperatures in the region have increased, as has their potential to impact human health. Warmer winters extend the time in which harmful bacteria can grow and increase the likelihood that humans will encounter them. Warmer summer nights negatively impact the health of the ill and elderly in homes without air conditioning.

The analysis also showed that the growing season around Chesapeake Bay is starting earlier and ending later than it did 100 years ago. This expanded season changes the growth of plants and the behavior of animals, particularly those that use the length of warm and cold periods as cues to migrate. It also allows agricultural pests and disease that could not have tolerated Chesapeake winters in the past to move into the region.

One of the most important drivers of the bay’s health—annual precipitation—is also changing. More rain each year will impact nutrient pollution, dissolved oxygen levels in the bay, phytoplankton blooms, and bacteria populations. It also may make restoration efforts more difficult. Climate forecasts suggest that annual precipitation will continue to increase through the end of the century.

The project developed resources for citizens and decision makers around the region and packaged them  in a public friendly website. The iBook, Chesapeake Ecosystem Atlas, added a new climate change chapter based on the study’s findings that is geared toward grades eight through twelve.  Teachers and students are also invited to get a “behind the scenes” look at the process of this analysis and to access data and code through the Science Pensieve blog.

“We are focused on making sure that all stakeholders have access to this information,” says Sill. “Research, stewardship, training, education—all of our programs connect with different groups of citizens and decision makers and we’re all working together to make sure they understand and use this information to plan for the future.”

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ReservesChesapeake Bay, MarylandNERRS Data Reveals Chesapeake Bay’s Climate History