From the ABC 7 Weather team

How weather affects the health of the Chesapeake Bay (photos, video)

April 18, 2012 - 05:27 PM
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Hot summers, cold winters and windy conditions all have a big impact on the health of the Bay.

Here is an example of the erosion that can cause excess sediment and turbidity in the water.15 Photos
(Photo: Alex Liggitt/Alex Liggitt | Date: May. 04, 2011)

Story from 2011: Bill Bradley who is the IT Program Manager of the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office emailed me to let me know of a website that has real-time monitoring stations along the Bay. They call it the Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS). CBIBS consist of 9 (soon to be 10) buoys located around the Bay. One is located right in the Potomac south of the Wilson Bridge off National Harbor. It had to be redeployed this year to avoid ice damage this past winter.

With such drastic changes in the weather over the past year, including the hottest summer on record, a colder than normal December and January, and a wetter than normal spring, Doug and I got to wondering exactly how the weather affects the Chesapeake Bay. To get this question answered, we headed down to Piney Point, Md, to interview a group of scientists that work for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Weather and climate play an enormous part on the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Just this past winter, a third of the adult Blue Crab population was killed off because of the colder than normal December and January. Not only were crustaceans affected, but also fish, as nearly 2 million spot fish died in December in the Bay, as they did not migrate south in time after a mild November.

So we know that wildlife can be affected by changes in the weather patterns, but what about water quality? The Chesapeake Bay Watershed spans 6 different states and contains drainage from more than 100,000 rivers, creeks and streams. Since rainfall has been well above normal this year for areas north and west of the Bay, runoff becomes an increasingly bigger problem. Excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from farms and even your lawn often move downstream into the Bay which can harm everything from wildlife species to underwater grasses. Another problem from runoff is the excess sediment it carries into the Bay which can act to cloud the water and limit sunlight to the sea grass beds.

Why are sea grasses so important? They are an indicator of the health of the Bay. The sea grasses such as widgeon grass and eelgrass act not only as habitats for a number of species of crustaceans and fish, but can also limit erosion, and slow water flow to promote more light and photosynthesis into the waters of the Bay. They also improve water quality by filtering out sediments, absorbing nutrients from the water and producing oxygen. At one point in time, the Bay supported about 185,000 acres of sea grass beds. Restoration projects have been going on for years to try to increase coverage.

The weather plays a big role in how the grasses perform. Very high temperatures like last summer can kill the grasses. Also, excessive runoff from heavy rain clouds the water, which can really hurt the grasses by limiting sunshine, especially during the peak growing season from April through October. If we have another summer like last year, there is also the potential for algae blooms and low-oxygen dead zones which are a big threat to the Bay.

The scientists at the DNR have sensors and instruments at specific locations in the bay that measure temperature, dissolved oxygen, salinity, conductivity and pH every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They monitor the Bay on a daily basis, and will try to continue to improve conditions by growing sea grasses, implementing programs to teach residents living in the watershed and its tributaries, and improving policy to help continue to protect the Bay for the future.

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