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Relative impacts of global changes and regional watershed changes on the inorganic carbon balance of the Chesapeake Bay

Citation: St-Laurent, P., Friedrichs, M. A. M., Najjar, R. G., Shadwick, E. H., Tian, H., and Yao, Y.: Relative impacts of global changes and regional watershed changes on the inorganic carbon balance of the Chesapeake Bay, Biogeosciences, 17, 3779–3796,, 2020. NOAA OAP Grant#NA18OAR0170430

The Chesapeake Bay is a large coastal-plain estuary that has experienced considerable anthropogenic change over the past century. At the regional scale, land-use change has doubled the nutrient input from rivers and led to an increase in riverine carbon and alkalinity. The bay has also experienced global changes, including the rise of atmospheric temperature and CO2. Here we seek to understand the relative impact of these changes on the inorganic carbon balance of the bay between the early 1900s and the early 2000s. We use a linked land–estuarine–ocean modeling system that includes both inorganic and organic carbon and nitrogen cycling. Sensitivity experiments are performed to isolate the effect of changes in (1) atmospheric CO2, (2) temperature, (3) riverine nitrogen loading and (4) riverine carbon and alkalinity loading. Specifically, we find that over the past century global changes have increased ingassing by roughly the same amount (∼30 Gg-C yr−1) as has the increased riverine loadings. While the former is due primarily to increases in atmospheric CO2, the latter results from increased net ecosystem production that enhances ingassing. Interestingly, these increases in ingassing are partially mitigated by increased temperatures and increased riverine carbon and alkalinity inputs, both of which enhance outgassing. Overall, the bay has evolved over the century to take up more atmospheric CO2 and produce more organic carbon. These results suggest that over the past century, changes in riverine nutrient loads have played an important role in altering coastal carbon budgets, but that ongoing global changes have also substantially affected coastal carbonate chemistry.

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The NOAA Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) works to prepare society to adapt to the consequences of ocean acidification and conserve marine ecosystems as acidification occurs. Learn more about the human connections and adaptation strategies from these efforts.

Adaptation approaches fostered by the OAP include:


Using models and research to understand the sensitivity of organisms and ecosystems to ocean acidification to make predictions about the future, allowing communities and industries to prepare


Using these models and predictions as tools to facilitate management strategies that will protect marine resources and communities from future changes


Developing innovative tools to help monitor ocean acidification and mitigate changing ocean chemistry locally


On the Road

Drive fuel-efficient vehicles or choose public transportation. Choose your bike or walk! Don't sit idle for more than 30 seconds. Keep your tires properly inflated.

With your Food Choices

Eat local- this helps cut down on production and transport! Reduce your meat and dairy. Compost to avoid food waste ending up in the landfill

With your Food Choices

Make energy-efficient choices for your appliances and lighting. Heat and cool efficiently! Change your air filters and program your thermostat, seal and insulate your home, and support clean energy sources

By Reducing Coastal Acidification

Reduce your use of fertilizers, Improve sewage treatment and run off, and Protect and restore coastal habitats

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You've taken the first step to learn more about ocean acidification - why not spread this knowledge to your community?

Every community has their unique culture, economy and ecology and what’s at stake from ocean acidification may be different depending on where you live.  As a community member, you can take a larger role in educating the public about ocean acidification. Creating awareness is the first step to taking action.  As communities gain traction, neighboring regions that share marine resources can build larger coalitions to address ocean acidification.  Here are some ideas to get started:

  1. Work with informal educators, such as aquarium outreach programs and local non-profits, to teach the public about ocean acidification. Visit our Education & Outreach page to find the newest tools!
  2. Participate in habitat restoration efforts to restore habitats that help mitigate the effects of coastal acidification
  3. Facilitate conversations with local businesses that might be affected by ocean acidification, building a plan for the future.
  4. Partner with local community efforts to mitigate the driver behind ocean acidification  – excess CO2 – such as community supported agriculture, bike & car shares and other public transportation options.
  5. Contact your regional Coastal Acidification Network (CAN) to learn how OA is affecting your region and more ideas about how you can get involved in your community
       More for Taking Community Action