Nutrients

Plants and animals need nutrients to survive. But when too many nutrients enter waterways, they fuel the growth of algae blooms and create conditions that are harmful to underwater life.

FAQ

  • Where do nutrients come from?

    In general, nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous reach the Chesapeake Bay from three sources: wastewater treatment plants; urban, suburban and agricultural runoff; and air pollution. Nutrients can also come from natural sources, like soil, plant material and wild animal waste.

  • Why do scientists monitor phytoplankton?

    Because phytoplankton respond quickly to changes in nutrient levels, their population density acts as an indicator of nutrient pollution and Bay health.

  • What causes poor water clarity?

    Nutrient and sediment pollution are the main causes of the Chesapeake Bay’s poor water clarity. Nutrients fuel the growth of water-clouding algae blooms, while particles of sediment can float in the water. Weather also plays a role in water clarity: rain storms wash dirt and pollutants into the Bay, muddying the water.

  • More FAQs >>

Terms

  • Airshed

    The area of land over which airborne pollutants can travel to reach a particular river, lake, bay or other body of water. The Chesapeake Bay’s airshed is 570,000 square miles, stretching north to Canada, west to Ohio and south to South Carolina.

  • Algae bloom

    A dense population of algae whose growth is fueled by excess nutrients. Algae blooms can block sunlight from reaching underwater grasses, and their decomposition can rob the water of dissolved oxygen and suffocate marine life.

  • Dead zone

    A condition where no oxygen is present in the water. Dead zones are often caused by the decomposition of algae blooms.

  • Nitrogen

    A type of nutrient that contributes to the Bay’s poor water quality. While nitrogen is needed for plant growth, human activities—like driving cars or applying fertilizers—contribute more nitrogen than the Bay’s waters can handle. Elevated nitrogen levels cause more algae to grow, blocking out sunlight and reducing oxygen for fish, crabs and other Bay life.

  • Nutrients

    Chemicals that plants and animals need to grow and survive but, in excess amounts, can harm aquatic environments. Elevated levels of the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorous are the main cause of poor water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.

  • Phosphorus

    A type of nutrient contributing to the Bay’s poor water quality. While phosphorus is vital to plant life, human activities—like applying fertilizers or using household cleaners—contribute more phosphorus than the Bay’s waters can handle. Elevated phosphorus levels cause more algae to grow, blocking out sunlight and reducing oxygen for fish, crabs and other Bay life.

  • Wastewater

    Water that has been used in homes, industries and businesses that is not for reuse unless treated by a wastewater treatment facility.

  • More Terms >>