Bay Journal

Topics: Climate Change

Smith Island losing land, population and now its shepherd

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They stand in a tidy church graveyard in the main town of Ewell, adorned with U.S. flags and fresh wreaths, their shiny coatings a rebuke to the battering winds and rising tides. The headstones bear the surnames of Smith Island: Bradshaw, Somers, Evans, Corbin. Hardy stock, all. Their descendants are still there, sticking it out on Maryland’s last inhabited offshore Chesapeake Bay island, while dozens of other isles have succumbed to the seas.

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About Climate Change

The Chesapeake Bay was formed 10,000 years ago as a warming climate melted vast ice sheets, raising ocean levels that flooded the lower Susquehanna River valley. Scientists say today’s climate is changing far more rapidly, with potentially severe consequences for the region.

Chesapeake Bay water levels have risen by nearly a foot in the past century, and the rate of sea level rise appears to be accelerating. Warming temperatures are expected to affect rainfall patterns in the region and contribute to more intense storms.

Habitats for many species will be greatly altered. For instance, eelgrass, the dominant underwater grass in high salinity areas of the Chesapeake, is likely to decline because of its low tolerance to high temperatures.

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