January 29th, 2013 by Joshua S Hill
A new report authored by leading scientists and experts explains that the effects of climate change are going to continue threatening the health of coastal communities throughout the United States.
The report emphasises the need for increased coordination and planning to protect US coastal communities in the face of a continually changing climate.
“[Hurricane] Sandy showed us that coastal states and communities need effective strategies, tools and resources to conserve, protect, and restore coastal habitats and economies at risk from current environmental stresses and a changing climate,” said Margaret A. Davidson of NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management and co-lead author of the report. “Easing the existing pressures on coastal environments to improve their resiliency is an essential method of coping with the adverse effects of climate change.”
The report highlighted several areas in which all coastal communities throughout the US are specifically at risk; including sea-level rise, erosion, storms, and flooding. This is specifically the case in highly populated coastal communities where damage will inherently cause greater financial impact due to the sheer number of people and cost of living.
“An increase in the intensity of extreme weather events such as storms like Sandy and Katrina, coupled with sea-level rise and the effects of increased human development along the coasts, could affect the sustainability of many existing coastal communities and natural resources,” said Virginia Burkett of the U.S. Geological Survey and co-lead author of the report.
Particularly at risk are coastal communities along the Gulf of Mexico, Mid-Atlantic, northern Alaska, Hawaii, and the island territories of the US.
Other key findings of the report include:
- Expected public health impacts include a decline in seafood quality, shifts in disease patterns and increases in rates of heat-related morbidity.
- Changes in the location and the time of year when storms form can lead to large changes in where storms land and the impacts of storms. Any sea-level rise is virtually certain to exacerbate storm-surge and flooding related hazards.
- Because of changes in the hydrological cycle due to warming, precipitation events (rain, snow) will likely be heavier. Combined with sea-level rise and storm surge, this will increase flooding severity in some coastal areas, particularly in the Northeast.
- Temperature is primarily driving environmental change in the Alaskan coastal zone. Sea ice and permafrost make northern regions particularly susceptible to temperature change. For example, an increase of two degrees Celsius during the summer could basically transform much of Alaska from frozen to unfrozen, with extensive implications.
- As the physical environment changes, the range of a particular ecosystem will expand, contract or migrate in response. The combined influence of many stresses can cause unexpected ecological changes if species, populations or ecosystems are pushed beyond a tipping point.
- Although adaptation planning activities in the coastal zone are increasing, they generally occur in an ad-hoc manner and are slow to be implemented. Efficiency of adaptation can be improved through more accurate and timely scientific information, tools, and resources, and by integrating adaptation plans into overall land use planning as well as ocean and coastal management.
- An integrated scientific program will reduce uncertainty about the best ways coastal communities can to respond to sea-level rise and other kinds of coastal change. This, in turn, will allow communities to better assess their vulnerability and to identify and implement appropriate adaptation and preparedness options.
The full report can be read here (PDF) to further understand the risks at hand in a changing climate. The authors behind the report are too numerous to mention (but can be seen in full in the report itself). They represent organisations from NOAA, the US Geological Survey, the US Environmental Protection Agency, inumerable universities and other governmental institutions.
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