Life at Sea Level: Living with climate change on the Chesapeake Bay | WYPR

Life at Sea Level: Living with climate change on the Chesapeake Bay

Scientists have been telling us for some time that much of what we do in our every-day lives creates gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. That leads to rising temperatures globally, melting ice caps and rising sea levels that threaten coastal communities. And the low lying Chesapeake Bay region is particularly vulnerable. 

Already, islands that once appeared on navigational charts have disappeared. And scientists predict Smith and Tangier islands could be next. Now, some coastal communities are trying to stem that tide.

In this series, Life at Sea Level: Living with climate change on the Chesapeake Bay, correspondent Pamela D’Angelo travels round the bay to hear from different waterfront communities about potential solutions.

As Climate Changes, Scientists Re-Think Phragmites

Oct 17, 2019
Pamela D'Angelo

If you visit the tiny Virginia town of Saxis, just across Pocomoke Sound from Crisfield, Maryland, you’ll be greeted by fields of bobbing, feathery heads of 10-foot phragmites.

The tall reed launched its invasion of the Chesapeake Bay centuries ago when the plants hitched a ride across the Atlantic with the first European colonists. And for the most part, it’s been seen as a pesky plant that clogged wetlands and waterways, taking over the habitat of native plants.

Pamela D'Angelo

The wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay are nurseries for blue crabs, striped bass, menhaden and other important species. The variety of plants in them absorbs pollutants like nitrogen that run off city streets and farm fields.

And they protect properties from flooding by stabilizing shorelines and absorbing storm water.

Pamela D'Angelo

NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, is scheduled to launch a resupply mission to the International Space Station Wednesday afternoon from a launch pad that sits at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s a climate change—and erosion--hot spot where rising waters and increasingly stronger storms are eroding the shoreline by about 12 feet a year.

The Nature Conservancy

On the lower Eastern Shore, just south of Snow Hill, they’re cutting down trees to try to resurrect historical swamps that were drained hundreds of years ago to create farm fields and tree plantations.

Those trees are slowly being replaced by Atlantic White Cedar, a tree that once thrived in the swamp. Draining the swamp led to floods and fires. But replacing the original trees will help restore the swamp, explains Deborah Landau, a conservation ecologist with the Nature Conservancy.

At the Mouth of the Bay, a City Seeks Resilience

Mar 11, 2019
Pamela D'Angelo

Newmarket Creek flows from Newport News, Va., through nearby Hampton where nuisance flooding caused by rising tides and sinking lands has created problems for more than one homeowner.

Since 2008, the city of Hampton has been looking at ways to live with water. City officials recently brought experts together for a week-long workshop and a community meeting at the Hampton Coliseum to look at innovative ways individuals, neighborhoods and the city can manage flood risk during storms and adapt to become more resilient to rising waters and sinking lands.