Scientist says rising temps in Chesapeake Bay could be 'straw that breaks the camel's back'

Chesapeake Bay watershed temperatures continue to rise, mitigation necessary
Chesapeake Bay with blue sky
Chesapeake Bay water
Posted at 12:48 PM, Sep 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-16 12:48:29-04

The water in the Chesapeake Bay has been warming and it could have profound impacts on our area.

The rising temperature of the water is placing pressure on the delicate ecosystem in the Chesapeake Bay’s watershed.

And even though the changes might seem minor, even the smallest shifts in temperatures can cause a waterway to become uninhabitable for some species.

“Water temperatures have ecological implications for the bay and its watershed,” said Doug Myers, a senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

As atmospheric temperatures increase, water temperatures have followed suit in the Chesapeake Bay’s tidal waters, streams, and rivers across the bay’s watershed.

And based on climate change projections they’re expected to continue rising.

“Warm water doesn’t hold as much oxygen.”

Dr. Myers says if the temperatures are higher, there is less dissolved oxygen which leads to underwater animals having to breathe more heavily and use their oxygen more quickly.

Another issue is stratification of the water where it’s warmer at the surface, but cooler below.

“And there's like a layer that separates those. So, you have all the dissolved oxygen being consumed by bacteria as they're decomposing things on the bottom. And it's not mixing with the well oxygenated surface waters and so that stratification creates that dead zone.”

The warmer water also shifts species distributions which leads to their displacement, poor fishing, and diseases.

“They can go further north, maybe even out of the bay itself. And in other cases, they're going to go into deeper water, whether they're just not known as much,” said Myers.

“And then you add temperature on top of it, and that's the straw that breaks the camel's back.”

If climate change continues without mitigation, consecutive hot years are more likely to occur and these ecosystems will continue to be more stressed, which will continue to lead to more issues for us as well.


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