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NCCOS Project

Chesapeake Bay Climate Sensitivity Assessment

This project began in April 2014 and was completed in September 2015

The Chesapeake Bay is one of the largest estuaries in the world, economically valuable for its productive habitats, valuable fisheries, and recreational opportunities. However, it is clear that climate changes will influence this important coastal ecosystem. We are using the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve System and historical data to provide a forward-looking synthesis of potential future climate changes and their consequences.

Why We Care
In 2013, NCCOS partnered with NOAA’s Estuarine Reserve System and the University of Wisconsin to produce the Climate Sensitivity of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) report. For this report, NCCOS focused on the NERRS System Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP) data to asses and describe how each of the 28 coastal reserves tend to respond to changes in temperature and precipitation. This information is the key to aiding coastal managers, both within and outside of these NERRS reserves, by identifying the impacts that future climate changes might bring to their coastal ecosystems. With this information we can construct early warning indicators to differentiate between changes that fall within and outside the “normal” range of historical variability, perhaps in response to climate changes or other important stressors.

The Maryland and Virginia components of the Chesapeake Bay NERRS present a unique lens for managers to view the potential changes that climate change may bring to the bay and how these changes might affect their protected resources. While the bay itself is a dynamic estuary—and its plants and animals have the capacity to respond to shifts in habitats, temperatures, and salinity zones—these shifts may have pronounced effects on the reserves as habitat and species ranges move into and out of their waters. Through this project, the assessment of the changes that might occur in the future and subsequent products will educate the public and inform mitigation and adaptation planning by the NERRS managers and other coastal Chesapeake Bay stakeholders.

What We Are Doing
This project will support a Chesapeake Bay climate sensitivity assessment. For both the Virginia and Maryland components of the Chesapeake Bay NERRS complex, we will:

  • Acquire, process, and organize response variable data, as well as relevant local, regional, and hemispheric scale weather and climate information.
  • Determine weather and climate variables and classification techniques appropriate for defining climate and climate indicator relationships.
  • Assess quantitative relationships between climate and candidate climate indicators.
  • Synthesize findings into a climate assessment framework and target products for outreach and communication that advance the project objectives.
  • Develop and deliver specific products that will address educational and planning targets specified by the Chesapeake Bay NERRS.

The assessment will use weather, water, biological, and climate data from a variety of sources and a state of the art biophysical model (the Chesapeake Bay Ecological Prediction System) to address the needs and goals of the Chesapeake Bay  NERRS, the Chesapeake Bay Program, and NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Sentinel Site Cooperative. Other partners include NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for North Atlantic Research, the University of Maryland’s Horn Point Lab, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and NOAA Sea Grant.

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