Buzzards Bay Water Temps on Rise, Says Study

Buzzards Bay, Photo/NOAA
Buzzards Bay, Photo/NOAA

An analysis of long-term, water-quality monitoring data reveals that climate change is having an impact on ecosystems in the coastal waters of Buzzards Bay, according to a release from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

Utilizing 22 years of data collected by a network of citizen scientists, researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and their colleagues at the Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program, the Buzzards Bay Coalition and the Marine Biological Laboratory found that average summertime temperatures in embayments throughout Buzzards Bay warmed by almost 2 degrees Celsius—roughly 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

“That is a rapid temperature increase for marine life,” said Jennie Rheuban, a research associate at WHOI and lead author of the paper published January 15, 2016, in the journal Biogeosciences. “For some species, a single degree of Fahrenheit change can mean the difference between a comfortable environment and one where they can no longer thrive.”

In addition, Rheuban added, the warmer water temperatures are fueling an increase in algae growth. While algae and other microscopic plants, which form the base of the marine food chain, are vital to a healthy ecosystem, too much can cause murky water, reduce sunlight and oxygen levels, and ultimately cause harm to marine life.

This means added challenges for improving water quality in some Cape Cod and southeastern Massachusetts watersheds that are already suffering from too much nitrogen, which is most commonly caused by releases from septic systems and wastewater treatment plants, atmospheric pollution, and fertilizer runoff. Excess nitrogen also boosts algae growth.

“This is potentially important because it suggests that in a future world with higher temperatures, towns around Buzzards Bay will have to remove more nitrogen from coastal watersheds to maintain the same water quality,” added Christopher Neill, director of the Marine Biological Laboratory’s Ecosystems Center and one of the study’s co-authors.

Read more about the rising water temperatures in Buzzards Bay.