Research out of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science indicates that the Chesapeake Bay’s waters are warming, and in some locations, much faster than air temperatures. Using remote sensing by satellites, researchers found that water temperatures have risen since the 1980s across more than 92 percent of the Chesapeake. Images near Baltimore and other parts of the bay revealed “hot spots,” with warmer water than surrounding areas. According to Dr. Elmore and his co-author, Haiyong Ding, the heat anomalies appear to be linked to continued urban growth and sprawl, as well as warm-water discharges from power plants.
Reports from the U.S. Geological Survey are also showing that streams feeding the bay are also warming, with average temperature increases of 2.5 degrees since 1960.
“Many of the changes we see in the bay are tied in with these changes in temperature,” said Dr. Elmore. “What are we restoring the bay to?”
Warming waters also could alter the types of algae and microscopic animals in the bay which could reduce food sources for fish and crabs, including Menhaden. Eelgrass and soft clams may also find it more difficult in warming waters.
The ‘Pollution Diet’ that has been implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency deals with nutrients coming into the bay, yet it does not take into account climate-warmed water. Federal regulators at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay office will have to take this into account as they determine next steps to restore the Bay’s health.
For places like Northampton, which has the ability to curb unsustainable development, the data can be helpful, as it indicates just how much land-based sources of warmer water, usually in the form of stormwater runoff and power plant discharges, affects our local waters. Whatever changes the County intends to make in the proposed zoning, leveraging this data should play a big part in the path it chooses for the future.