Document Type



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



Journal of the American Water Resources Association

First Page


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Coastal environments such as the Chesapeake Bay have long been impacted by eutrophication stressors resulting from human activities, and these impacts are now being compounded by global warming trends. However, there are few studies documenting long-term estuarine temperature change and the relative contributions of rivers, the atmosphere, and the ocean. In this study, Chesapeake Bay warming, since 1985, is quantified using a combination of cruise observations and model outputs, and the relative contributions to that warming are estimated via numerical sensitivity experiments with a watershed–estuarine modeling system. Throughout the Bay’s main stem, similar warming rates are found at the surface and bottom between the late 1980s and late 2010s (0.02 +/- 0.02C/year, mean +/- 1 standard error), with elevated summer rates (0.04 +/- 0.01C/year) and lower rates of winter warming (0.01 +/- 0.01C/year). Most (~85%) of this estuarine warming is driven by atmospheric effects. The secondary influence of ocean warming increases with proximity to the Bay mouth, where it accounts for more than half of summer warming in bottom waters. Sea level rise has slightly reduced summer warming, and the influence of riverine warming has been limited to the heads of tidal tributaries. Future rates of warming in Chesapeake Bay will depend not only on global atmospheric trends, but also on regional circulation patterns in mid-Atlantic waters, which are currently warming faster than the atmosphere.

Supporting model data available at:




Chesapeake Bay; climate change; water temperature; environmental models

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. (2199 kB)
Includes additional regional details for water temperature trends and monthly atmospheric forcing estimates.

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