Harding, Lawrence W., Jr., Mallonee, Michael E., Perry, Elgin S., Miller, W. David, Adolf, Jason E., Gallegos, Charles L. and Paerl, Hans W.
Coincident climatic and human effects strongly influence water-quality properties in estuarine-coastal ecosystems around the world. Time-series data for a number of ecosystems reveal high spatio-temporal variability superimposed on secular trends traceable to nutrient over-enrichment. In this paper, we present new analyses of long-term data for Chesapeake Bay directed at several goals: (1) to distinguish trends from spatio-temporal variability imposed by climatic effects; (2) to assess long-term trends of water-quality properties reflecting degradation and recovery; (3) to propose numerical water-quality criteria as targets for restoration; (4) to assess progress toward attainment of these targets. The bay has experienced multiple impairments associated with nutrient over-enrichment since World War II, e.g., low dissolved oxygen (DO), decreased water clarity, and harmful algal blooms (HAB). Anthropogenic eutrophication has been expressed as increased chlorophyll-alpha(chl-alpha) driven by accelerated nutrient loading from 1945 to 1980. Management intervention led to decreased loading thereafter, but deleterious symptoms of excess nutrients persist. Climatic effects exemplified by irregular "dry" and "wet" periods in the last 30 years largely explain high inter-annual variability of water-quality properties, requiring adjustments to resolve long-term trends. Here, we extend these analyses at a finer temporal scale to six decades of chl-alpha, Secchi depth, and nitrite plus nitrate (NO2 NO3) data to support trend analyses and the development of numerical water-quality criteria. The proposed criteria build on a conceptual model emphasizing the need to distinguish climatic and human effects in gauging progress to reverse eutrophication in estuarine-coastal ecosystems.