Late September 2011 Update on the Sediment Plume in the Chesapeake Bay Resulting from Tropical Storm Lee Rainfall

Here are some developments during the last week of September regarding the plume of sediments in the Susquehanna River, Potomac River, and Chesapeake Bay following the heavy rains from Tropical Storm Lee between September 7 and 10, 2011.  During the week of September 19, scientists from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Old Dominion University, and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) conducted the first research cruise (of many expected, along with flyovers) to sample and monitor the plume.  According to the 9/24/11 Virginian-Pilot, these researchers did not see evidence of the sediment plume in Virginia’s portion of the Bay.  Some researchers have attributed this to spreading and settling of the sediments near the Maryland-Virginia border.  According to the 9/27/11 Daily Press, however, VIMS professor Ken Moore expects the sediment to begin showing along the western side of the Bay and around the mouths of Virginia Bay tributaries (Potomac, Rappahannock, James, and York rivers) “over the coming weeks and months.”  Concerns about the sediments include its potential to smother oysters or other animals, block sunlight from submerged aquatic vegetation, and carry toxic materials along with the soil particles.  Sources:  Bay sediment plume under study by VIMS, Newport News Daily Press, 9/27/11; and No further sign of muck plume in Chesapeake Bay, Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, 9/24/11.

Here is a re-post of previous information on the plume, originally posted 9/21/11. In mid-September, NASA satellite photos began showing a large mass of brown water in the upper Chesapeake Bay, Susquehanna River, and Potomac River, resulting from sediment washed into Bay tributaries from the heavy rains generated by Tropical Storm Lee.  According to the 9/16/11 Virginian-Pilot, Robert Orth, from VIMS, called the plume “absolutely extraordinary,” and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientist based in Maryland said this amount of sediment runoff was “certainly new for our generation,” a consequence of flooding comparable to that from Hurricane Agnes in 1972.  NASA satellite photos from September 13 compared to August 23 and 30 are available at http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=52169Plume of muck from recent storms heading our way, Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, 9/16/11.

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