Two main themes in William Boicourt’s recent research as a physical oceanographer are the circulation of estuaries and the response of the coastal ocean to winds, especially to the strong winds of nor’easters and hurricanes. Storms relate to climate change not only because hurricanes will likely be more intense in the future, but also because estuaries, and particularly Chesapeake Bay, are especially vulnerable. The confined nature of these coastal features allows large storm surges to flood far inland. Relatively small amounts of sea-level rise will alter the tides and the estuary’s response to wind. Changes in the flow of rivers due to the changing climate will affect estuarine circulation. These dynamics are being investigated as part of Boicourt’s ongoing studies on the role of wind in estuarine and continental shelf flows.
Living nearby and working on the shallow waters of Chesapeake Bay and the nearby continental shelf, Boicourt says he finds it hard to ignore the remarkably rapid ecological changes brought on by changes in the climate, and points to a number of meaningful signs. Southern birds and other land species are expanding their range to the north. Some cold-water fish no longer find suitably cool habitat in the waters off Maryland. When marine contractors replace piers on the Eastern Shore of the Bay, the new levels are 6-7 inches above the old. High-water marks of hurricane storm surges surpass historical records. Bay islands disappear within the span of an individual’s memory. With these climate changes underway at a pace that challenges our ability to slow or adapt to them, he says it is easy to focus on scientific research toward improving our understanding and our ability to predict the consequences.
More information about William Boicourt and other state experts on climate change can be found here. Photo credit: David Harp.