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How has the Sound Changed?

At a recent New York Sea Grant sponsored climate change teacher workshop , Dr. K. was asked a really interesting question about human caused changes in Long Island Sound:

NYC middle school teachers at the "Climate Change and the Long Island Sound Estuary" teacher workshop that was held on October 2, 2014 test the water quality of Alley Pond Creek. Alley Pond Creek flows into Little Neck Bay, which discharges to Long Island Sound.

NYC middle school teachers at the “Climate Change and the Long Island Sound Estuary” teacher workshop that was held on October 2, 2014 test the water quality of Alley Pond Creek. Alley Pond Creek flows into Little Neck Bay, which discharges to Long Island Sound.

Q: How has the Long Island  Sound changed over the years? What are the future predictions for the Sound? How is climate change influencing these changes?

Dr. K:

This is a really broad question. Long Island Sound is constantly changing. Some changes happen on the scale of thousands to millions of years, caused by geological processes (rock weathering, glacial advance/recession, etc…) or gradual natural fluctuations in earth’s climate. I’m not really going to focus on those, but rather on changes caused by humans.

One of the biggest changes over the last century or so has to do with altering land use. Land use changes occur when we change natural habitats (forest, saltmarsh, grassland) into engineered habitats (buildings, roads, lawns, agricultural fields, etc…). Since humans tend to like to live by water, this has resulted in the loss of a great deal of coastal wetlands, among other things, which have been filled in to make them suitable to build on. These wetlands are critical habitats for birds, fish, and invertebrates. Climate change makes this issue worse, because sea level rise threatens to drown salt marshes, and human activities (roads and buildings) prevent the marshes from retreating to higher ground (a process called marsh migration), which is their usual response to changes in sea level.

Fortunately, Long Island Sound Study and its partners are aware of this issue and are working hard to study marsh migration, and to restore salt marshes and nearby upland areas that will allow the marshes to migrate with climate change. Since 1998, LISS has restored nearly 1,000 acres of wetlands and 1,500 acres of coastal habitat, and our new revision to our Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, which is currently being drafted, calls for those numbers to increase to 1,500 and 3,000 acres respectively by 2035.

Other changes to Long Island Sound that are exacerbated by climate change include changes to our fish population, which is shifting from cold-water species (e.g. winter flounder, cod, bluefish, and lobster) to warm-water species (e.g. spot, summer flounder, sea bass, and blue crab), as well as the timing and magnitude of phytoplankton (micro-algae) blooms, which often occur at the end of winter as waters begin to warm.

 

Jason Krumholz, aka Dr., K, is the NOAA liaison to EPA’s Long Island Sound Office. Dr. Krumholz received his doctorate in oceanography at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography.

Have a Sound Health question?

ASK DR. K!

Send an e-mail to Jason Krumholz.. Dr. Krumholz  is a marine scientist working as the NOAA liaison to the EPA Long Island Sound Office. View more of Dr. K’s questions and answers on the Ask Dr. K blog.

 

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA or NOAA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA or NOAA do not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

 

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