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.
The changing climate and oceans have significant impacts on the nation’s valuable marine life and ecosystems, and the many communities and economies that depend on them. Scientists expect environmental changes such as warming oceans, rising sea levels, frequency and intensity of floods and droughts, and ocean acidification to increase with continued shifts in the planet’s climate system.
These environmental changes impact 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 provide important services including nursery areas for fish and protected species and protection for people and property from storms and flooding. Preparing for changing oceans will help sustain the nation’s valuable marine resources, fisheries, and coastal communities.
NOAA climate science is the foundation for smart policy and decision-making in a changing world. 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 provides decision-makers with answers to four key questions:
NOAA’s climate stewardship protects our lands, waters, resources, and people. Other federal agencies, state and local governments, and businesses look to NOAA to understand how they can adapt and respond to climate change, and provide science-based services to their constituencies. And we work with partners 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.
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.
From the sea to the sun and coast to coast, NOAA is observing, measuring, monitoring, and collecting data using satellites, ships, buoys, planes, drones, sensors, and more. Our scientists work every day at sea, on shore, and in laboratories to track and forecast changes in U.S. marine ecosystems and understand their impacts. We use our Climate Science Strategy to proactively increase the production, delivery, and use of climate-related information to help guide our science and management activities. The Strategy is being implemented through regional action plans. These plans identify high priority regional climate-related information needs and actions so that we can better track, understand, project, and respond to marine ecosystem changes on a regional level.
Information on current conditions—and what is changing—is critical in providing sound scientific advice for sustainable management. NOAA provides essential baseline and trend information to inform decision makers about the impacts of climate change on the ocean with data on ocean temperature, sea level, currents, species distribution, and more.
Understanding why and how the changing climate and oceans affects marine life—and the communities that depend on them—will help us better forecast future conditions and identify how to reduce those effects. We are building a coalition of partners to improve our understanding of how and why the changing climate and oceans impact marine ecosystems. This includes identifying the drivers of change as well as which resources and ecosystems may be most at risk and what actions might reduce risks and increase resilience.
NOAA Fisheries and its partners are using a variety of approaches to project how marine ecosystems and specific resources might change in the future. For example, we are looking at how the distribution and abundance of marine resources may change. We are considering how these changes may affect businesses and communities, and how to prepare and respond to these changes.
Effective resource management depends on robust information about past, current, and projected future conditions of marine ecosystems. Efforts are under way to deliver better projections to help improve stock assessments, assess risks, and evaluate best management strategies under a range of likely future climate and ocean conditions.
Changing climate and oceans affect nearly every aspect of our mission, from fisheries management and aquaculture, to conservation of protected resources and vital habitats.
To address these growing impacts, NOAA delivers climate services to federal agencies, states, Tribes, communities, and businesses across America. We are responsible for providing best-in-class data and information that helps people make science-based decisions, especially at the local level where planning for an uncertain future is the most difficult and where decision makers may need technical support.
NOAA helps people build the capacity to recover quickly from extreme weather events and changes in climate by providing science-based decision-support tools and programs that promote sustainable fisheries, restore coastal ecosystems that minimize the impacts of storms, and provide ecological and economic benefits. Our Climate Science Strategy, Regional Climate Action Plans, and Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management Road Map will help scientists, fishermen, managers, and coastal businesses better understand what’s changing, what’s at risk, and what actions are needed to safeguard America’s valuable marine resources and resource-dependent communities. We are committed to using the best available science to prepare for and respond to climate change through informed management decisions.
Changing ocean conditions are affecting the location of fish stocks, the productivity of fish stocks, and the fishing industry’s interactions with bycatch, protected species, and other ocean users. Fish stocks could become less productive or move out of range of the fishermen who catch them. These shifts can cause social, economic, and other impacts on fisheries and fishing-dependent communities. As a result, fishing industries and coastal businesses can face significant challenges in preparing for and adapting to changing climate and oceans. And there is much at risk—marine fisheries and seafood industries supported more than $244.1 billion in economic activity and 1.74 million jobs in 2017.
To reduce impacts, increase resilience, and take advantage of new opportunities, NOAA uses the best available science to evaluate fisheries management strategies in the face of climate change. We are exploring potential management approaches, and have identified challenges and recommendations for improving science and management. In partnership with the Regional Fishery Management Councils, Fishery Commissions, and states, we are taking steps to help fisheries prepare for and respond to changing climate and ocean conditions including:
Changing climate and ocean conditions directly impact the collection and analysis of data used in the stock assessment process for U.S. fisheries management. We are implementing a Next Generation Stock Assessment Enterprise framework to address a suite of new demands and challenges. This includes determining how best to account for the effects of changing ocean conditions. The goal is to ensure sustainable, well-managed stocks and stock structure using available climate information.
Our ecosystem-based fisheries management approach is a vital tool for helping fishery managers and fishermen prepare for and adapt to climate change. It takes a holistic view of the entire ecosystem to more effectively assess the health of any given fishery. EBFM considers the impacts on fish stock productivity from social, economic, and ecological variables—such as changing ocean conditions—across multiple fisheries and habitats. It is a cornerstone of NOAA's efforts to sustainably manage the nation's marine fisheries. Our EBFM Policy and Road Map describe how we implement ecosystem-based fisheries management.
At the regional level, regional fishery management councils develop fishery ecosystem plans. These plans help fishery managers determine whether management effectively incorporates core ecosystem principles.
Intensifying droughts, storms, and other climate-related events have revealed substantial vulnerabilities for land-based food production. When we look at the future of our food systems, we have to consider a growing population, a changing climate, and increasing strain on our natural resources. Aquaculture is an opportunity to complement wild harvest and sustainably increase our domestic food supply.
Building sustainable marine aquaculture—ocean farming of fish, shellfish, and seaweeds—can reduce resource pressure and present novel resilience opportunities for a changing environment. While not immune to the effects of climate change, aquaculture producers have more control of fish and shellfish raised in ocean-based farming operations. They can keep juvenile finfish and shellfish in hatcheries longer to safeguard them during the most vulnerable phase of development. And ocean-based farming operations generally require less fresh water and land resources, and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions to produce food than land-based farming.
Additionally, aquatic crops like shellfish and seaweed provide important ecosystem services, including water filtration and the reduced ocean acidification around farm sites. Aquaculture farms can also provide habitat for fish and crustaceans, increasing an area's biodiversity and benefiting wild populations. NOAA scientists are studying the nitrogen removal that shellfish aquaculture can provide to coastal communities and seaweed’s potential to decrease carbonic acid—the main perpetrator of ocean acidification.
Climate change is affecting marine life. Warming oceans, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, droughts, and floods change the productivity of our waters. Many of the marine species we work to conserve and protect, including endangered and threatened species, are already compromised. They may be negatively impacted by these rapid environmental shifts.
NOAA’s sound science approach underlies our work addressing climate change challenges to our marine species conservation, management, and recovery mission. We are working with partners to improve our scientific understanding of the impact on protected species. And we are using the best available science to inform our recovery and conservation efforts and enhance species’ resilience and adaptation strategies. For example, we are:
Climate change is accelerating habitat loss, disrupting fisheries, and increasing storm frequency and intensity. As a result, the demand and need for habitat protection and restoration solutions continues to grow. Coastal, riverine, and marine habitats provide us with countless climate resilience benefits, from nursery grounds for fish to protection from storms.
NOAA Fisheries has a long-standing history of working with partners to protect and restore coastal and marine habitat to sustain fisheries and recover protected species. This work supports climate-resilient coastal communities and the storage of carbon in coastal habitats. In addition, coastal habitat restoration supports long-term economic recovery across a diversity of sectors. A recent study found that habitat restoration created on average 15 jobs per million dollars spent. Up to 30 jobs per million dollars are created for labor-intensive restoration projects.
We provide technical and financial assistance to thousands of coastal habitat restoration projects. They support communities that rely on those habitats for flood protection, natural resources, and jobs. For example, the Southern Flow Corridor project in Tillamook County, Oregon restored tidal wetland connectivity to more than 400 acres in the Tillamook estuary. This work not only restored critical habitat for endangered Oregon Coast coho salmon but also reduced local flooding and protected more than 500 structures.
NOAA Fisheries has recently completed a climate vulnerability assessment in the Northeast to consider climate impacts on fish habitat. The results will enable resource managers to prioritize habitat research, protection, and restoration initiatives.
We also work with federal agency partners to ensure that adverse habitat impacts to the fish, wildlife, and cultural “trust” resources that NOAA conserves and manages are avoided or minimized.
Climate change is significantly impacting the nation’s valuable marine and Great Lakes ecosystems and fisheries. It is also impacting the many people, businesses, and economies that depend upon them.
To prepare and respond to these changes, we have developed the NOAA Climate and Fisheries Initiative. It will build the end-to-end, operational modeling, and decision support system needed to provide the information and capacity resource managers and stakeholders need to reduce impacts and increase resilience in a changing climate.
Warming oceans, rising seas, melting sea ice, and increasing acidification are impacting the structure of marine and Great Lakes ecosystems, and the distribution and abundance of species in many regions. These changes affect many parts of NOAA’s mission, from fisheries management and aquaculture to conservation of protected resources and habitats. The impacts are expected to increase and there is much at risk.
The Climate and Fisheries Initiative is a cross-NOAA effort to build the nationwide, operational ocean modeling and decision support system needed to reduce impacts, increase resilience, and help adapt to changing ocean conditions. The system will provide decision makers with the actionable information and capacity they need to prepare for and respond to changing conditions today, next year, and for decades to come.
The system is composed of three interlinked elements that ensure end-to-end delivery of information, services, and feedback for continuous innovation:
State-of-the-art ocean and Great Lakes forecasts and projections for use in developing climate-informed management advice.
Operational capability to use these ocean and Great Lakes forecasts and projections to assess risks, evaluate management strategies, and provide robust advice for climate-informed resource management.
Increased capability to use climate-informed advice to reduce risks and increase the resilience of marine life and the people and communities that depend on them.
The Initiative is a timely, efficient, and effective way to address NOAA’s requirements for climate-informed management of marine and Great Lakes resources. Working with many partners, the Initiative will provide decision makers the information and capacity they need to help safeguard resources and resource-dependent communities in a rapidly changing world.
This graphic shows the three major elements of the Initiative's Integrated Ocean Modeling and Decision Support System. Each element is composed of several key components (listed below) critical to generating, delivering, and using climate-related information in living marine resource management. The end-to-end system is designed for innovation and feedback to ensure continuous improvement in meeting decision maker needs.
This element advances climate, ocean, and ecosystem understanding and modeling. It drives innovation and skills in projecting future ocean conditions. Key components include:
This element provides operational climate, ocean, and ecosystem decision support systems that drive production and delivery of climate ready advice. Key components include:
This element supports climate ready decision-making through service delivery, capacity building, tools, and applications. Key components include:
The NOAA Climate and Fisheries Initiative will provide the climate, ocean, and ecosystem information and capacity needed to assess risks, identify adaptation strategies, and safeguard marine and Great Lakes resources and the communities that depend on them.
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