Chesapeake Bay Grasses

Grasses, Watermen & Bathymetry

Chesapeake Bay Grasses is a cartography and storytelling project that we worked with the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP). CBP is a partnership of federal, state, non-profit organizations and academic institutions dedicated to the protection and restoration of the Bay. Stamen has been working with the CBP to develop a visual story about the health of the Bay, based on a ton of scientific data that has been collected over the last 40 years or so.


The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States. (An estuary is a body of water where fresh and salt water mix.) It's about 200 miles long, with a total surface area of about 4,480 square miles, an average depth of about 21 feet, and the Bay and its tributaries have a shoreline longer than the entire U.S. west coast. Thanks to its watermen, the Bay produces about 500 million pounds of seafood per year, despite increasing pollution levels. You can read lots more interesting facts and figures on the Chesapeake Bay Program website.

Humans have been interested in the Bay for ages. In addition to the fisherpeople, citizens and pirates (!) that live or have lived on its shallow waters, there is also a ton of scientific research going on, much of which is lead by the CBP. The Bay is home to some 80,000 acres of bay grasses, and bay grass density over time is a great indicator of the overall health of the system. We worked with CBP and, in particular, Dr. Robert Orth from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science to create a map that helps show grass density across the Bay from 1984-2012. There's a general challenge for scientists around the world to mine their gigantic research datasets for insight and stories, and this project is a first round at help the CBP do that.

Knowing that the project was focussed on a body of water, and not the land ended up being a strong influence on the cartography we designed. But first, we had to make sure we could "operate" the remarkably comprehensive bathymetry data that CBP has.

Here are some highlights of the bathymetry: