The Ocean’s Future

October 2014
By:
Hilary Kotoun, Social Impact Director, Sailors for the Sea
How global warming changes our favorite places

Rachel Carson Quote, Ocean Conservation Quote

The boating community exists in the boundary where land meets water, and today that boundary’s location is changing due to the impacts of global warming.

Whether you hope to watch a future America’s Cup in (potentially) San Francisco where the backup of seawater into the sewage systems is a reoccurring problem, or racing in Miami, FL where the ocean blankets the streets at high tide, global warming is currently impacting boaters all around the United States.

Sea Level Rise

By 2050, anticipated sea level rise will vary greatly along the 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline, but the consistent trend is that the tide is getting higher. In some locations – sea level rise is anticipated to be upwards of 2.3 feet in the next 36 years. The National Climate Assessment also looks at potential flooding events based on historic extreme weather events in a region such as spring high tides and hurricanes. When analyzing likeliness of storms such as Hurricane Sandy or Katrina - which were once predicted to occur “once every 100 years” - many coastal cities can expect that these will occur every five to twenty years.

In the 36 years many favorite sailing spots in the United States can expect to see storms like Hurricane Sandy as often as every 5 years.

Infrastructure Issues

Those who live along the coast and own docks, marinas, boats or waterfront property have already started to feel the rising tide. However sea level rise is not just a risk for private property. Much of the infrastructure in our country is along the coast. Our highways, which connect our ports and airports, bring goods from town to town and often hug the coastline. One of the strongest examples of this problem can be found in the Gulf Coast. Within this century, half of the major roadways in this region will be inundated by sea level rise.

We are in Hot Water

The ocean absorbs over 90% of the heat trapped by increasing levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This excess heat warms and expands the ocean, adding to sea level rise problems.

Warming waters are also predicted to change ocean currents and circulation. With a 0.9°F rise in sea surface temperatures over the last century, ecosystem change can be seen in many areas of the ocean. In Hawaii and the Caribbean, coral bleaching is a persistent problem and only becoming worse. Coral bleaching occurs when water temperatures become too high, forcing reefs to expel the algae (zooxanthellae) that help nourish and give them their vibrant color.  Coral reefs are essential spawning, nursery, breeding, and feeding grounds, and one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet

Coral Bleaching

The photo insert is of a bleached brain coral. The maps show the global extent and severity of mass coral bleaching with a large increase worldwide over the last decade. 

Oceans on Acid

“The ocean currently absorbs about a quarter of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, leading to ocean acidification that will alter marine ecosystems in dramatic yet uncertain ways.” National Climate Assessment, 2014

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, there has been an approximately 30% increase in surface ocean acidity. Along our coasts, regional differences in ocean pH occur as a result of variability
 in regional or local conditions. Additionally, coastal waters and estuaries can also exhibit acidification as the result of pollution and excess nutrient inputs, such as fertilizer runoff. Sailors and boaters can help mitigate this by using environmentally safe cleaning products and using compost, rather than toxic fertilizers at home or on marina lawns.

Coastal Pressures

Today, more than 50% of Americans, 164 million people, live in coastal counties, and every year 1.2 million more are added. This places heavy demands on the unique natural systems and resources that make our coastal areas so attractive and productive.

No other region concentrates so many people and so much economic activity on so little land, while also being so relentlessly affected by the sometimes violent interactions of land, sea, and air.” National Climate Assessment, 2014

Coastal ecosystems provide many valuable benefits such as reducing flood impacts, buffering from storm surge and waves, providing nursery habitat for important marine species, water filtration, carbon storage, and opportunities for recreation and enjoyment. Coastal ecosystems in the United States have long faced environmental struggles. It’s time we start preserving and restoring these vital habitats.

How Global Warming Impacts Human Health

Climate change affects human health just as seriously as it does the environment and our property’s economic value. In the coming years, most impacts on human health will come from extreme weather events including:

  • Wildfires and decreased air quality
  • Increased days with temperatures over 100 degrees
  • Traumatic extreme weather events
  • Illnesses transmitted by food, water, and disease carrying insects

These events can lead to:

  • Emergency room visits and medication for asthma, bronchitis and chest pain
  • Increased cases of heat stroke and exhaustion, and particularly with elderly and young a greater risk of death from excessive heat
  • Increased cases of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder from extreme weather events
  • Increased exposure to Lyme disease, dengue fever and in rare cases diarrheal diseases

What can be done?

“The amount of future climate change will largely be determined by choices society makes about emissions. Lower emissions of heat trapping gases mean less future warming and less severe impacts. Emissions can be reduced through improved energy efficiency and switching to low-carbon or non-carbon energy sources.” National Climate Assessment, 2014

We need to act now to embrace big solutions to big problems that reduce the human carbon footprint.

What is the National Climate Assessment?

In May of 2014, the third National Climate Assessment was published, focusing on our changing climate while highlighting current and future impacts of a warming world. Sailors for the Sea published a series of blogs interpreting the information published by the assessment for the boating community. All graphs and images are from the National Climate Assessment website, unless otherwise noted. To read the full report visit: www.globalchange.gov

Take Action

You can make a difference. Follow these steps to create a positive future for the ocean.

Take Action
  • Be part of the 10% - If 10% of registered vehicles in the United States drove 1 less mile a day, it would eliminate 22 million tons of CO2 emissions – the same amount that the ocean absorbs everyday.
  • Reduce your carbon footprint! Learn how to calculate your carbon footprint and how to offset it with blue carbon from Seagrass Grow
  • Adaptation: after storms don’t rebuild in the area that was destroyed and work with your local government to prepare for sea level rise.