The Bay is an estuary, a place where fresh and ocean waters meet and mingle.
It covers more than 2500 square miles and its main stem stretches some 180 miles
with 12,000 miles of shoreline. Deceptively shallow, the Bay’s average
depth is twenty-two feet; twenty-four percent of the Bay (some 700,000 acres)
is 6 feet deep or less.
Fresh water flows into the Bay from 150 major rivers and 100,000 smaller streams
and tributaries and drains a 64,000 square mile watershed that encompasses five
states. Centuries of rivers and streams eroding the surrounding landmasses have
given the Bay a soft bottom of sand and mud. Over time, the processes that created
the Bay have also reshaped its shorelines and navigable channels—and still
do. Other powerful natural forces in the Bay include fickle weather and changing
seasons that bring ice, impenetrable fog, and brutal storms and hurricanes—some
violent enough to erase familiar shorelines or remodel shoals in the course
of a single wave-tossed night. In the lower Bay, treacherous currents and surging
Atlantic Ocean tides menace vessels. There is no escaping the fact that the
Bay’s changeable features and uncertain environment will always challenge
even the boldest of mariners.
Place your mouse over the numbers on the diagram below to find out more about Bay features and forces.
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