Fragile wetland ecosystems, which support an abundance of wildlife, are being lost around the Chesapeake Bay at an alarming rate due to an increase in sea level. For example, one third of the total area of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (Figure 1) (approximately 20 km2) was lost between 1938 and 1979 [Leatherman, 1992]. Approximately 4,100 km2 of the perimeter of the Chesapeake Bay are covered by wetlands of which 58% forested wetlands and 28% are salt marshes. It is likely that many factors are responsible for the wetlands loss, some that have global implications, and some that reflect local phenomena.
Understanding the mechanisms responsible for wetlands deterioration and loss, however, has been impeded by the lack of adequate data including quantitative monitoring of the types and distribution of flora, Tthe boundaries of specific habitat types, and data on the spatial variations in sea level and land subsidence. This article focuses on the latter problem, which is to determine the relative roles of sea level rise and land subsidence in the region. Over the past four years, a small network of Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers have been installed near tide gauges in the Chesapeake Bay to help determine the cause of relative sea level rise in this region. These receivers are just beginning to yield results.