Climate Change And The Chesapeake Bay
A state-of-the-art map and website help visualize several future scenarios in the Bay.
Map image courtesy National Geographic Society.
Did You Know?
- Chesapeake Bay has a higher land-to-water ratio than any estuary in the world: the 64,000 square-mile watershed drains into the shallow 4,000 square-mile Bay
- The watershed has more than 11,600 miles of coastline along the main Bay and tidal tributaries
- During the last century, the relative sea level has risen approximately one foot in the Chesapeake, nearly twice the global average
- In 2009, we protected our 300,000th acre in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed—conserving lands valued at more than $631 million.
The Chesapeake Bay region is one of the most vulnerable areas in the nation to sea level rise induced by climate change. The effects of sea level rise and periodic storm surge include shoreline erosion, coastal flooding, salt water intrusion of freshwater resources, and inundation of some coastal areas. The watershed has more than 11,600 miles of coastline along the main bay and tidal tributaries, with many historic and natural areas at risk of permanent or periodic inundation from sea level rise and storm surge.
Bay waters are already rising due to climate change and land subsidence. This combination increases the relative rate of sea level rise in the region: during the last century, the relative sea level has risen approximately one foot in the Chesapeake, nearly twice the global average. Scientists predict that the bay’s relative sea level could rise anywhere from 1.3 feet (0.4 meters) to 5.2 feet (1.59 meters) by the end of this century. Of greater immediate concern is flooding from tropical storms, hurricanes and nor’easters. Storm surge associated with extreme weather events will threaten both natural and human infrastructure in the bay.
Natural resource managers, conservation partners and decision makers are grappling with the scope of this problem and are working to develop strategies to adapt to future predicted changes to improve community and environmental resilience. Using the best available science, computer modeling system and visualization tools, the Fund and a consortium of some of the most highly regarded partners in the country, including the National Geographic Society, recently produced a state-of-the-art map and website to help visualize several future scenarios in the bay, so that we can help protect the bay’s natural resources and public infrastructure.
The project is also featured in A Sustainable Chesapeake: Better Models for Conservation, a publication from the Fund, edited by David Burke and Joel Dunn, which provides conservation strategies for government agencies, community groups, businesses and others involved in the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.
To help educate the next generation of citizens, scientists, environmentalists and community leaders, 25,000 copies of the map are being distributed to schools in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. National Geographic’s Education Division has developed lesson plans to accompany the map and website. The education products were also part of a professional training program conducted by the Fund, NOAA, National Geographic, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others that demonstrated how communities can effectively use green infrastructure planning as a tool for developing effective climate change mitigation and adaption strategies.
This is a picture of the last remaining structure on Holland Island, which at the turn of the 20th century had as many as 360 residents. In October of 2010 the abandoned house finally collapsed into the ocean. The fate of Holland Island—and this house—is not unique in the area. Other islands have either already disappeared or await a similar fate. Sea level rise resulting from climate change is the cause. Read about the history and fate of Holland Island in this article from the Washington Post.