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Browse History: Chlorophyll a (2010)
Indicator Icon Chlorophyll a

Chlorophyll a is used as a measure of phytoplankton (microalgae) biomass. Phytoplankton biomass is controlled by factors such as water temperature and the availability of light and nutrients. Elevated phytoplankton levels can lead to reduced water clarity and decomposing phytoplankton can lead to reduced dissolved oxygen levels.

Chesapeake Bay - Indicator Details:





  Indicator Selection Diagram


Threshold Map


This map shows how often chlorophyll a concentrations were above or below threshold concentrations between March and September 2010. Good water quality is characterized by chlorophyll a levels that are frequently below the threshold, resulting in high scores (shown in green). Poor water quality is characterized by chlorophyll a levels that are frequently above the threshold, resulting in low scores (shown in shades of orange and red).

In 2010, a large portion of Chesapeake Bay had chlorophyll a levels that frequently exceeded threshold levels. These failing regions include the Choptank River, the Patuxent River, the Lower Western Shore (MD), and the Patapsco and Back Rivers. Regions of Chesapeake Bay with chlorophyll a concentrations frequently below threshold levels (i.e., in good condition) tended to be in the upper reaches of the Potomac, York, and Upper Bay regions. The James River had the best chlorophyll a score of all the regions.

Creating this map
Chlorophyll a concentrations were measured at approximately 144 stations up to 12 times during the period of interest (March to May and July to September). The proportion of time that chlorophyll a levels were below the threshold levels at each station was calculated and then interpolated to provide estimates between the stations.

Data Map


This map shows average chlorophyll a concentrations in Chesapeake Bay from March to September. Highest average chlorophyll a concentrations tended to occur in tributaries such as the South, Sassafras, Patapsco, and Back Rivers, and the mainstem Bay directly north of the Bay Bridge. In these regions average chlorophyll a concentrations often exceeded 25 ug/l; these high concentrations are more than likely due to elevated nutrient availability. Low average chlorophyll a concentrations (in the 5-10 ug/l range) occurred in some areas of the bay this year, including most of the lower mainstem Bay, the middle reaches of the Potomac and James River, and the upper reaches of the York River. While average chlorophyll a concentrations were relatively low in many regions, the levels were still frequently above that considered necessary for a healthy bay. For this reason, large areas of the bay frequently exceeded threshold levels, in other words, chlorophyll a failed in many regions (see threshold map).

Understanding this map
Chlorophyll a concentrations were measured at approximately 144 stations up to 7 times during the period of interest (March to May and July to September). The average chlorophyll a concentration at each station was calculated and estimates between stations were made by interpolation to visualize spatial patterns and trends.

Ranking


Comparison of Bay Health Index scores for 2010 () compared to
()


Score Legend
 Score (%)
 0               20               40               60               80              100
  
James River  
Upper Bay  
Upper Western Shore  
Elizabeth River  
Potomac River  
Mid Bay  
York River  
Overall Bay  
Rappahannock River  
Lower Eastern Shore (Tangier)  
Upper Eastern Shore  
Lower Bay  
Choptank River  
Patuxent River  
Lower Western Shore (MD)  
Patapsco and Back Rivers  
 0

This figure ranks each region from best to worst chlorophyll a scores for 2010. Good water quality is characterized by chlorophyll a levels that are frequently below the threshold, resulting in high scores (shown in green). Poor water quality tends to have chlorophyll a levels that are frequently above the threshold, resulting in low scores (shown in shades of orange and red).

In 2010, the James River had the best overall chlorophyll a score, followed by the Upper Bay. The chlorophyll a threshold map (see tab above) shows that long sections of the mid and lower James River had chlorophyll a concentrations that were frequently (60-79% of the time) below the threshold level. Lowest ranked regions were the Lower Western Shore (MD) and Patapsco and Back Rivers regions. the Patapsco and Back Rivers region scored a zero, indicating that chlorophyll a levels were always above the threshold levels. Frequently high levels of chlorophyll a, leading to the poor scores, are mainly due to excess nutrient availability.


Excel Spreadsheet

Threshold Levels

Salinity RegimeSeasonReference Community
Thresholds (µg L-1)*
Tidal FreshSpring≤14.0
OligohalineSpring≤20.9
MesohalineSpring≤6.2
PolyhalineSpring≤2.8
Tidal FreshSummer≤12.0
OligohalineSummer≤9.5
MesohalineSummer≤7.7
PolyhalineSummer≤4.5

* Lacouture et al., Estuaries and Coasts (2006) & Buchanan et al., Estuaries (2005)