, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 617-626

A 2,500-year history of anoxia and eutrophication in Chesapeake Bay

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Ongoing monitoring programs and historical data are not sufficient to establish anthropogenic effects on the ecology of Chesapeake Bay. However, stratigraphic records preserved in the sediments can be used to reconstruct both prehistoric and historic sedimentation and water conditions of the bay, including anoxia and eutrophication. Pollen, diatoms, total organic carbon (TOC), nitrogen, total sulfur, and an estimate of the degree of pyritization of iron (DOP) are being used as paleoecological indicators in dated sediment cores for the purpose of reconstructing a long-term environmental history of the bay. Analysis of the data indicates that sedimentation rates, anoxic conditions, and eutrophication have increased in the Chesapeake Bay since the time of European settlement. For example, since initial land clearance around 1760, sedimentation rates have increased from as low as 0.02 cm yr−1 to an average 0.22 cm yr−1, and TOC from 0.14 mg cm−2 yr−1 to a high 4.96 mg cm−2 yr−1. Diatom community structure shows a steady decrease in overall diversity since 1760 and the centric:pennate ratio has increased significantly since 1940.