Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptationand Vulnerability

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3.4. Coastal Zones and Marine Ecosystems

Large-scale impacts of climate change on oceans are expected to include increases in sea surface temperature and mean global sea level, decreases in sea-ice cover, and changes in salinity, wave conditions, and ocean circulation. The oceans are an integral and responsive component of the climate system with important physical and biogeochemical feedbacks to climate. Many marine ecosystems are sensitive to climate change. Climate trends and variability as reflected in multiyear climate-ocean regimes (e.g., Pacific Decadal Oscillation) and switches from one regime to another are now recognized to strongly affect fish abundance and population dynamics, with significant impacts on fish-dependent human societies. [4.4]

Many coastal areas will experience increased levels of flooding, accelerated erosion, loss of wetlands and mangroves, and seawater intrusion into freshwater sources as a result of climate change. The extent and severity of storm impacts, including storm-surge floods and shore erosion, will increase as a result of climate change including sea-level rise. High-latitude coasts will experience added impacts related to higher wave energy and permafrost degradation. Changes in relative sea level will vary locally due to uplift and subsidence caused by other factors. [4.4]

Impacts on highly diverse and productive coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs, atolls and reef islands, salt marshes and mangrove forests will depend upon the rate of sea-level rise relative to growth rates and sediment supply, space for and obstacles to horizontal migration, changes in the climate-ocean environment such as sea surface temperatures and storminess, and pressures from human activities in coastal zones. Episodes of coral bleaching over the past 20 years have been associated with several causes, including increased ocean temperatures. Future sea surface warming would increase stress on coral reefs and result in increased frequency of marine diseases (high confidence6). [4.4]

Assessments of adaptation strategies for coastal zones have shifted emphasis away from hard protection structures of shorelines (e.g., seawalls, groins) toward soft protection measures (e.g., beach nourishment), managed retreat, and enhanced resilience of biophysical and socioeconomic systems in coastal regions. Adaptation options for coastal and marine management are most effective when incorporated with policies in other areas, such as disaster mitigation plans and land-use plans. [4.4]

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