The Chesapeake Bay has more than 11,600 miles of shoreline. Evidence of its changing tides can be observed along much of the region, whether it is a high water mark on a dock piling, a line of seaweed on a beach or a shorebird pulling shellfish from the mud of a temporarily exposed flat.
In some watershed cities—like Annapolis, Maryland—the difference between high and low tides is about one foot. In others—like Norfolk, Virginia—this difference can reach up to three feet. We have built our roads, homes and buildings around the regular movement of this water. But as sea levels rise, land subsides and natural barriers to coastal flooding are lost, our coastal cities will face more impactful high-tide flooding that occurs regardless of heavy winds or rain.
High-tide flooding has also been called sunny-day, shallow coastal or nuisance flooding. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) records a high-tide flood when one of its local tide gauges measures a water level above the local threshold for minor impacts. While the depth and extent of high-tide floods can vary, the nuisances that result are far from minor: disrupted transportation, degraded stormwater management systems, flooded roads, homes and businesses, and strained maintenance budgets.
Rates of high-tide flooding on all coasts are rising. In a June 2016 report on the state of high-tide nuisance flooding in the United States, NOAA researchers attribute increasing flood frequencies to local sea level rise—which itself is attributed to the melting of ice on land as the air warms and the expansion of seawater as oceans warm—and local land subsidence, or the settling or sinking of land. Indeed, according to the report, “annual flood rates have increased locally by two or three times or more as compared to the rate experienced 20 years ago.”
Of the 28 local long-term tide gauges operated by NOAA, four are in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Together, these four cities—Annapolis and Baltimore in Maryland, Norfolk in Virginia and the District of Columbia—experienced a total of 128 high-tide flood days in 2015, with Baltimore and Norfolk experiencing local totals just two days and one day below the highest historical record. These floods were likely exacerbated by El Niño, which affected winds and storm tracks along the mid-Atlantic and West coasts.
The 2016 outlook for each of these four cities is lower than the number of flood days the cities observed in 2015: 15 flood days are expected to occur in 2016 in Baltimore, 47 in Annapolis, 33 in Washington, D.C., and 8 in Norfolk. However, NOAA expects future outlooks to underestimate flood days because of the increasingly “nonlinear response” flood frequencies will have to sea level rise. Furthermore, the agency’s high-tide flood outlook does not account for flooding compounded by local rainfall, and precipitation in the watershed is expected to increase in response to climate change.
While we cannot reverse the effects of climate change that have already been observed in the region—which include warming temperatures, rising sea levels and more extreme weather events, as well as coastal flooding, eroding shorelines and changes in the abundance and migration patterns of wildlife—we can enhance our resiliency against them. To build resiliency against high-tide flooding, for example, cities have relied on flood barriers to block rising water, drafted ambitious plans to raise low-lying streets and constructed new facilities higher off the ground.
Through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, the Chesapeake Bay Program has committed to increasing the resiliency of the region’s communities, living resources and wildlife habitats to the adverse impacts of changing environmental conditions. Learn about our work to monitor and assess the trends and impacts of climate change and to pursue, design and construct restoration and protection projects that will enhance the resiliency of our ecosystem.
Air quality improvements throughout the Potomac River watershed—due primarily to the Clean Air Act—have helped improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, according to research from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES).
When cars, power plants and other sources emit air pollution, it can be carried by wind and weather over long distances until it falls onto land or directly into the water. In fact, scientists estimate that one third of the nitrogen in the Chesapeake Bay comes from the air—through a process known as atmospheric deposition. And while studying water quality trends in the Upper Potomac River Basin, UMCES scientists confirmed that reductions in atmospheric nitrogen deposition are playing a large role in improvements in the area’s water quality.
“Most best management practices—like a riparian buffer or retention pond—only impact a relatively small area,” said Keith Eshleman, professor at UMCES’ Appalachian Laboratory and co-author of the study. “You can think about the Clean Air Act as a best management practice that affects every square meter of the watershed.”
Experts at the Chesapeake Bay Program will be able to incorporate the findings into their modeling efforts, in order to better simulate the benefits of the Clean Air Act on reducing nitrogen pollution. The study—along with other research, monitoring and data collected over the past decade—will support Bay Program decision-making during the upcoming Midpoint Assessment of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL.
Last year, the Chesapeake Bay Program released an interactive story map illustrating how Clean Air Act regulations, as well as decades of enforcement actions, led to a steady decline in air pollution across the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The study—“Declining nitrate-N yields in the Upper Potomac River Basin: What is really driving progress under the Chesapeake Bay restoration?”—can be found online.
From Virginia to New York, the Chesapeake region is full of delicious food and drinks. Since summer is a popular time for vacationing, you might find yourself driving around the region. As you’re planning your summer fun, why not combine the two—food and travel—and try a few new places? Better yet, plan a whole day of culinary adventures by following along a food trail. We’ve compiled a list of eight regional favorites to get you started.
1. Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail
As you’re traveling through Maryland this hot summer, be sure to plan some of your route along Maryland’s Best Ice Cream Trail. Featuring nine of Maryland’s ice cream favorites, the trail is sure to be a crowd-pleaser for kids and adults alike. Don’t forget to get your passport stamped at each stop! You can submit your filled-out passport for a chance to be named Maryland’s Ice Cream Trail Blazer.
2. Virginia Oyster Trail
Choose your own adventure on the Virginia Oyster Trail. Check out the trail’s many local restaurants serving Virginia oysters as well as oyster farms that offer tours. Want to delve deeper into Virginian culture? The website also lists art venues, artisan stops and cultural opportunities along the way.
3. Sweet Treats & Salty Eats Tour
Get a taste of York County, Pennsylvania, by following along the Sweet Treats and Salty Eats Tour. Start off the day with the scents of fresh-brewed coffee and handmade soap at New Grounds Roasting Company and Sunrise Soap Co. Then begin mixing and matching sweet and salty activities. Tour two different potato chip facilities, taste ice cream on the Turkey Hill Experience, learn the twists and turns of pretzel making at Revonah Pretzels and stop into the century-old Central House Market for some sweets.
4. Blue Ridge Fruit Loop
After filling up on junk food, you might want to visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge Fruit Loop to add some fruit to your diet. The loop’s 11 farms offer a wide variety of fruits, from apples and berries to plums and jellies, and you can either buy pre-picked fruit or pick it yourself. Keep an eye on their website for upcoming events, as well as recommendations for nearby hiking paths.
5. Corning Chocolate Trail
Satisfy your sweet tooth in Corning, New York, with an afternoon of chocolate tasting. With almost 40 spots to choose from, the trail features a chocolate treat for everyone, including homemade chocolates, art glass chocolates, dark chocolate balsamic vinegar and even carob-coated treats for your four-legged friends.
6. Cooperstown Beverage Trail
Running over the course of 37 miles in Otsego County, New York, the Cooperstown Beverage Trail features eight different stops including breweries, wineries, an orchard and a distillery. Visit the baseball-themed Cooperstown Distillery and take a tour of Brewery Ommegang, or work on a masterpiece at Bear Pond Winery’s Paint-N-Sip night after a tasting at Pail Shop Vineyards—these are just a few of the ways to enjoy the Cooperstown Beverage Trail.
7. Central PA Tasting Trail
The Central PA Tasting Trail highlights 12 of the region’s best spots for wine, beer and spirits. Attend a tasting, or sit in the restaurant and enjoy a drink with a meal. With most stops located off of I-99 and US-322, the facilities are easy to reach by locals, visitors and travelers passing through.
8. Patuxent Wine Trail
Taste the best of what Maryland’s Western Shore wineries have to offer on the Patuxent Wine Trail. Featuring ten wineries, the trail offers tastings from Annapolis to Leonardtown. Many of the wineries also offer tours and have spots for picnicking. Looking for a wine trail closer to home? Maryland Wine Association has mapped out six other trails to try.
Do you have a favorite food or beverage trail? Tell us about it in the comments!
A great egret (Ardea alba) lands in Kenilworth Marsh in Washington, D.C. Growing to more than three feet tall with a 55-inch wingspan, great egrets are the largest of the three egret species that call the Chesapeake Bay region home.
In the United States, great egret populations are not currently listed as endangered. But in the 19th century, the birds were hunted nearly to extinction for their plumage. In breeding season, long, delicate plumes—called aigrettes—grow from the egret’s back, and these feathers were in high-demand in the fashion world. Experts estimate that at the height of the feather trade, millions of egrets, herons and other birds were killed for their feathers.
In the late 1890s, cousins Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall began a boycott of the feather trade. The pair formed the Massachusetts Audubon Society, which would eventually grow to become the National Audubon Society—the symbol of which is the great egret. Decades later, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 protected migratory birds like the great egret from human activities like hunting and capturing.
Image by Will Parson