Environmental Management

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 125–139 | Cite as

Observed Winter Warming of the Chesapeake Bay Estuary (1949–2002): Implications for Ecosystem Management

Environmental Assessment


A large number of studies have documented 20th century climate variability and change at the global, hemispheric, and regional levels. However, understanding the implications of climate change for environmental management necessitates information at the level of the ecosystem. Historical monitoring data from the Chesapeake Bay estuary were used to identify temporal patterns of estuarine temperature anomalies in the surface (≤1 m) and subsurface (≥15 m) between 1949 and 2002. Data indicated a trend in surface and subsurface warming of +0.16°C and +0.21°C per decade, respectively, driven by warming during winter and spring. These trends suggest warming of the estuary since the mid-20th century of approximately 0.8–1.1°C. Estuarine temperatures correlated well with other independent data records for sea surface and surface air temperatures in the region and to a lesser extent, the northern hemisphere. Gross long-term temperature variability in the estuary was consistent with North Atlantic climate variability associated with the prolonged positive North Atlantic Oscillation/Arctic Oscillation and increased anthropogenic radiative forcing, although localized environmental drivers likely are important as well. A simple spatial analysis revealed strong seasonal latitudinal and longitudinal gradients in estuarine temperature as well as a north–south gradient in long-term temperature trends. Continued warming of the estuary will have important implications for ecosystem structure and function as well as attempts to manage existing challenges such as eutrophication and benthic hypoxia. However, such management efforts must be cognizant of the effects of various climate and nonclimate drivers of environmental variability and change operating over different spatial and temporal scales.

Chesapeake Bay Climate change Estuary Temperature Trend 



The author thanks Donald Boesch, Thomas Cronin, and an additional anonymous reviewer for critical comments that contributed to this work.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Pew Center on Global Climate ChangeArlingtonUSA

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