Monday, September 19, 2011

The Hudson and the Connecticut Aren't the Only Muddy Waters

No huge surprise here but the same kind of muddy plume that turned the Hudson River and Connecticut River reddish brown after Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee has descended the Susquehanna River and is now overwhelming Chesapeake Bay. This story, from the Hampton Roads Pilot, in Virginia, indicates that our generation of scientists has never seen anything like it. But it also says that the timing of the storm might mean it won't be quite as disastrous for marine life as feared, perhaps:

Scientists who have witnessed the plume in boats describe it as patchy, with some chunks a half-mile long, and reaching depths to the bottom of the Bay.

"Some of my colleagues who have seen flooding impacts on the Hudson River and the Mississippi River say they have never seen anything so dense, so large, as this," said Michael Ford, ecosystem science manager for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Chesapeake Bay Office, based in Maryland.

"This is certainly new for our generation," Ford added.

The National Weather Service is comparing the floodwaters to those from Hurricane Agnes in 1972, a storm that devastated aquatic life in the Bay.

But that hurricane struck in June, when baby fish were just learning to swim and underwater grasses were still blooming. Irene and Lee walloped the Bay much later, in late August and early September, when most of these natural cycles were winding down.

So the timing of Irene and Lee is much better ecologically for the Bay than Agnes, scientists say, and the storms will not likely leave such a nasty, lasting mark.

The Chesapeake Bay Program, overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, estimates the impacts to living organisms will be minimal but still cautions that the sediment plume could cover fragile oyster reefs and grass beds under a blanket of mud.


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