Understanding Our Changing Climate
Changes in our climate and our oceans are having very real and profound effects on the natural resources we depend on—including our fisheries and coastal habitats.
Climate has a profound effect on life in ocean and freshwater ecosystems. Climate-related changes include warming oceans, rising seas, acidification, droughts and extreme weather events (e.g., storms, heatwaves). They are affecting the distribution and abundance of many species, and the communities that depend on them.
These changes impact nearly every aspect of our mission, from managing fisheries and aquaculture, to conserving protected resources and vital habitats. There is much at risk. For example, fisheries support more than 1.7 million jobs and $244 billion in economic activity in the United States every year. Coastal habitats help protect life and property from storms and flooding.
We are taking a proactive approach to increase the resilience and adaptation of marine life and the people who depend on them. Our Climate Science Strategy was developed to enhance the production, delivery, and use of climate-related information in resource conservation and management. It is designed to provide decision-makers with answers to four key questions: What is changing; why it is changing; how it will change; how to respond.
We work with partners to understand and respond to changing climate and ocean conditions. Our goal is to minimize impacts, adapt to the changes that are coming, and ensure that future generations can enjoy the benefits of healthy marine ecosystems.
Communities and economies in southern states are also being impacted by changing climate and ocean conditions. Louisiana loses a football-field-size area of coastal wetlands to the sea every hour due to rising seas and sinking lands.
Climate change is already having a profound effect on life in the oceans. Droughts, floods, rising seas, ocean acidification, and warming oceans are changing the productivity of our waters and areas where wildlife live, spawn, and feed. There is much at risk—marine fisheries and seafood industries supported $244.1 billion in economic activity and 1.74 million jobs in 2017.
A number of marine species are shifting poleward at a rate of about 44 miles per decade. Many species are moving towards cooler regions as their environment warms. For marine species, this often means moving towards higher latitudes or into deeper waters. They are moving 5–10 times faster than terrestrial species. This causes issues for fishers and fishing communities that depend on them for their livelihoods. Global average sea level rise has risen by about 7–8 inches since 1900. Almost half of this rise has occurred since 1993 as oceans have warmed and land-based ice has melted. Relative to the year 2000, sea level rise is likely to rise 1–4 feet by the end of the century.
The loss of the recreational benefits alone from coral reefs in the United States expected by 2100. Coral reefs, which provide shoreline protection and support fisheries and recreation, are threatened by ocean warming and acidification. Warming has led to mass bleaching and outbreaks of coral diseases off the coastlines of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida, Hawai‘i, and the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands.
The percentage of annual average Arctic sea ice extent that has decreased since the early 1980s. September sea ice extent, which is the annual minimum extent, has decreased between 10.7 percent and 15.9 percent per decade. As the climate continues to warm, it is likely that the summer Arctic will be sea ice-free within this century. This will have major impacts on the Arctic ecosystems and the people who depend on them.
We conduct a variety of science activities including monitoring, research, modeling and assessments to inform and fulfill our agency mission. This includes tracking current conditions, providing early warnings and forecasts, understanding the mechanisms of climate impacts, projecting future conditions, and evaluating possible options for fisheries management and protected resources conservation in a changing world.
The NOAA Fisheries Climate Science Strategy is part of a proactive approach to increase the production, delivery, and use of climate-related information needed to fulfill our mandates. The strategy identifies seven objectives to provide decision-makers with the information they need to reduce impacts and increase resilience with changing climate and ocean conditions.
Working with our partners, we developed regional action plans to guide how we implement our national climate science strategy in each of our regions. The goal is to provide decision-makers with the information they need to reduce impacts of changing climate and oceans and increase resilience of valuable marine resources and the people who depend on them.
We support a NOAA-Wide Ocean Acidification Program, established by Congress in 2009, which will plan and oversee a long-term coastal and open-ocean monitoring program and lead research on the impacts of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and the socioeconomic implications of these impacts.
Our Fish Species Climate Vulnerability Assessment Methodology provides decision-makers with information on the relative vulnerability of fish species with expected changes in climate and ocean conditions. The methodology uses information on species life history characteristics, species distributions and projected future climate, and ocean conditions to estimate the relative vulnerability of fish species to changes in abundance.
Changing climate and oceans are affecting the nation’s valuable living marine resources and the people, businesses, and communities that depend on them. From warming oceans and rising seas, to droughts and ocean acidification, scientists expect these impacts to increase with continued changes in the planet’s climate system.
NOAA Fisheries is taking a proactive approach to reduce climate-related impacts on natural resources and marine life and to increase their resilience to these impacts. As part of this effort, we developed the NOAA Fisheries Climate Science Strategy to enhance the production, delivery, and use of climate-related information. The strategy is designed to better understand what is changing, why it is changing, how it will change, and how to respond.
Information on current conditions—and what is changing—is critical to helping decision-makers track, prepare for, and respond to changing marine ecosystems. This information can help provide sound scientific advice for sustainable management under changing conditions.
NOAA Fisheries conducts and supports a variety of efforts to provide early warnings of changes in marine ecosystems. This includes monitoring and tracking physical, chemical, biological, and socio-economic conditions related to oceans, fisheries, and protected marine life.
Understanding why changing climate affects marine life—and the communities that depend on them—will help us better forecast future conditions and identify how to reduce these effects.
We work with many partners to research how and why changing climate and oceans impact marine ecosystems. This includes identifying which resources and ecosystems may be most at risk and what actions might reduce risks and increase resilience.
NOAA Fisheries and partners are using a variety of approaches to project how the abundance and distribution of LMRs and marine ecosystems may change in the future. We are also looking at how these changes may affect businesses and communities. Forward-looking management depends on robust projections of future ocean conditions and the responses of these resources and the people, communities, and economies that depend on them. A number of efforts are under way to provide these robust projections and evaluate best management strategies under a range of likely future marine ecosystem conditions.
Changing climate and ocean conditions have significant impacts on the nation’s valuable living marine resources, marine ecosystems, and the many people, communities, and economies that depend upon them. These changes affect nearly every aspect of our mission, from fisheries management and aquaculture to conservation of protected resources and vital habitats.
Through our Climate Science Strategy and Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management Road Map and Policy, we are committed to reducing impacts on and increasing the resilience of these resources and ecosystems.
Through climate ready conservation, NOAA Fisheries is taking action to prepare for and respond to impacts of changing climate and oceans on fisheries, protected marine life, and the many people, businesses and communities that depend on them. Climate ready conservation means enhancing the resilience of ecosystems and species to climate-related changes using the best available science to make more informed management decisions.
We are working with partners to better understand and respond to impacts of changing climate and oceans on marine life. These efforts address two main objectives:
Identify and fill knowledge gaps of how changing climate and oceans affects protected species.
Develop guidance and tools to inform Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act actions in light of anticipated future climate and ocean conditions. Learn more about climate guidance for Endangered Species Act decisions.
Changing climate and ocean conditions directly impact the collection and analysis of data used in the stock assessment process for successful and sustainable management of living marine resources by NOAA Fisheries and its partners. A Next Generation Stock Assessment Enterprise framework is being implemented to address a suite of new demands and challenges, including how best to account for the effects of changing ocean conditions.
Ecosystem-based fishery management is a cornerstone of NOAA's efforts to sustainably manage the nation's marine fisheries. It complements and builds off-of traditional single species fishery management by considering social, economic, and ecological trade-offs across multiple fisheries and habitats.
Regional fishery management councils develop fishery ecosystem plans to:
Provide a clear description and understanding of the fundamental physical, biological, and human/institutional context of ecosystems within which fisheries are managed.
Direct how that information should be used in the context of fishery management plans.
Set policies that guide development and implementation of fishery management options.
Fishery managers can use fishery ecosystem plans as a metric to help determine whether management effectively incorporates core ecosystem principles. Currently, the following four regional fishery management councils have developed fishery ecosystem plans:
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