U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
EPA Science Advisory Board
Background Information

Document NameNatural and anthropogenic changes in Chesapeake Bay during the last 1000 years
Document AuthorBrush, G.S.
Short DescriptionHum. Ecol. Risk Assess., 7, 1283-1296
CategorySubgroup 1: Characterization of the Cause(s) of Hypoxia
Publication Year2001

Abstract: Sediment cores from tributaries, marshes and the main stem of Chesapeake Bay were analyzed for paleoecological indicators of climate change and land use. Indicators include pollen and seeds of terrestrial and aquatic plants, diatoms, charcoal, nutrients, and trace metals. Two major events, one climatic and the other anthropogenic, occur-red within the last millennium. The Medieval Climatic Anomaly and the Little Ice Age are recorded in Chesapeake sediments by terrestrial indicators of dry conditions for 200 years, beginning about 1000 years ago, followed by increases in wet indicators from about 800 to 400 years ago. There were no corresponding shifts in estuarine diatoms and seeds of submerged macrophytes. During the last few centuries following European settlement, deforestation and agriculture have resulted in the transport of large sediment and nutrient loads to estuarine waters. The terrestrial flora shifted from arboreal to herbaceous, and much of the estuarine benthic biota was replaced by pelagic species. These changes had a profound effect on the Chesapeake fishery. In assessing risks associated with climate change, it must be recognized that changes wrought by human activity are likely to influence effects of future climate change, in ways not evident from the fossil record.