Worsened physical condition due to climate change contributes to the increasing hypoxia in Chesapeake Bay.
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There are increasing concerns about the impact of worsened physical condition on hypoxia in a variety of coastal systems, especially considering the influence of changing climate. In this study, an EOF analysis of the DO data for 1985-2012, a long-term numerical simulation of vertical exchange, and statistical analysis were applied to understand the underlying mechanisms for the variation of DO condition in Chesapeake Bay. Three types of analysis consistently demonstrated that both biological and physical conditions contribute equally to seasonal and interannual variations of the hypoxic condition in Chesapeake Bay. We found the physical condition (vertical exchange+temperature) determines the spatial and seasonal pattern of the hypoxia in Chesapeake Bay. The EOF analysis showed that the first mode, which was highly related to the physical forcings and correlated with the summer hypoxia volume, can be well explained by seasonal and interannual variations of physical variables and biological activities, while the second mode is significantly correlated with the estuarine circulation and river discharge. The weakened vertical exchange and increased water temperature since the 1980s demonstrated a worsened physical condition over the past few decades. Under changing climate (e.g., warming, accelerated sea-level rise, altered precipitation and wind patterns), Chesapeake Bay is likely to experience a worsened physical condition, which will amplify the negative impact of anthropogenic inputs on eutrophication and consequently require more efforts for nutrient reduction to improve the water quality condition in Chesapeake Bay.