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Project report: Climate Change Vulnerabilities in the Mid-Atlantic Region

Project overview:

Climate change effects will alter the physical and chemical properties of the Mid-Atlantic region’s marine waters, and change the ecology of the region’s coastal and marine ecosystems (see US Global Change Research Program, National Climate Assessment 2014; NOAA’s web pages, and NERACOOS Ocean and Weather Climate pages). Sea level rise associated with climate change will change the region’s coastline and have implications for coastal infrastructure such as commercial and residential waterfront development, port infrastructure, and national security facilities. Ocean waters will continue to warm, and salinity levels will change, modifying the suitability of marine habitats and the geographic range of some marine species. Ocean waters will become more acidic in response to rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere, potentially affecting the health of marine species that depend on calcification. And demographic change will affect the number of people who participate in the ocean economy and are exposed to these effects.

The types of changes in both ecological and socio-economic systems that are likely to occur are generally well understood, but the extent, pace, and timing of changes are all unknown. Patterns of life that have been relatively stable for decades or centuries must now be considered highly risky. The nature of these risks must be better understood so that efforts to respond to them can be identified. Such steps should allow communities to minimize disruptions when possible and adjust how they use the oceans when necessary. The combination of such actions will determine the extent to which resilience to climate change is possible.

The Center for the Blue Economy (CBE) of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and the Marine Policy Center (MPC) of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have collaborated on a study that identifies vulnerable economic and environmental systems in the Mid-Atlantic states and the climate-related factors that could create the disruptions.

Collaborators: Porter Hoagland and Di Jin (WHOI), and Charles Colgan (Center for the Blue Economy, Middlebury Institute for International Studies).

Funding: Mid-Atlantic Regional Ocean Council