Federal Coordinating Lead Authors:
Roger B. Griffis, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Elizabeth B. Jewett, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Chapter Lead:
Andrew J. Pershing, Gulf of Maine Research Institute
Chapter Authors:
C. Taylor Armstrong, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
John F. Bruno, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
D. Shallin Busch, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Alan C. Haynie, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Samantha A. Siedlecki, University of Washington (now at University of Connecticut)
Desiree Tommasi, University of California, Santa Cruz
Review Editor:
Sarah R. Cooley, Ocean Conservancy
Technical Contributor:
Vicky W. Y. Lam, University of British Columbia
USGCRP Coordinators:
Fredric Lipschultz, Senior Scientist and Regional Coordinator
Apurva Dave, International Coordinator and Senior Analyst

Oceans and Marine Resources

Americans rely on ocean ecosystems for food, jobs, recreation, energy, and other vital services. Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels change ocean conditions through three main factors: warming seas, ocean acidification, and deoxygenation. These factors are transforming ocean ecosystems, and these transformations are already impacting the U.S. economy and coastal communities, cultures, and businesses.

While climate-driven ecosystem changes are pervasive in the ocean, the most apparent impacts are occurring in tropical and polar ecosystems, where ocean warming is causing the loss of two vulnerable habitats: coral reef and sea ice ecosystems. The extent of sea ice in the Arctic is decreasing, which represents a direct loss of important habitat for animals like polar bears and ringed seals that use it for hunting, shelter, migration, and reproduction, causing their abundances to decline (Ch. 26: Alaska, KM 1). Warming has led to mass bleaching and/or 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 (Ch. 20: U.S. Caribbean, KM 2; Ch. 27: Hawaiʻi & Pacific Islands, KM 4) that threaten reef ecosystems and the people who depend on them. The loss of the recreational benefits alone from coral reefs in the United States is expected to reach $140 billion (discounted at 3% in 2015 dollars) by 2100. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions (for example, under RCP4.5) (see the Scenario Products section of App. 3 for more on scenarios) could reduce these cumulative losses by as much as $5.4 billion but will not avoid many ecological and economic impacts.

Ocean warming, acidification, and deoxygenation are leading to changes in productivity, recruitment, survivorship, and, in some cases, active movements of species to track their preferred temperature conditions, with most moving northward or into deeper water with warming oceans. These changes are impacting the distribution and availability of many commercially and recreationally valuable fish and invertebrates. The effects of ocean warming, acidification, and deoxygenation on marine species will interact with fishery management decisions, from seasonal and spatial closures to annual quota setting, allocations, and fish stock rebuilding plans. Accounting for these factors is the cornerstone of climate-ready fishery management. Even without directly accounting for climate effects, precautionary fishery management and better incentives can increase economic benefits and improve resilience.

Short-term changes in weather or ocean circulation can combine with long-term climate trends to produce periods of very unusual ocean conditions that can have significant impacts on coastal communities. Two such events have been particularly well documented: the 2012 marine heat wave in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean and the sequence of warm ocean events between 2014 and 2016 in the northeastern Pacific Ocean, including a large, persistent area of very warm water referred to as "the Blob." Ecosystems within these regions experienced very warm conditions (more than 3.6°F [2°C] above the normal range) that persisted for several months or more. Extreme events in the oceans other than those related to temperature, including ocean acidification and low-oxygen events, can lead to significant disruptions to ecosystems and people, but they can also motivate preparedness and adaptation.


Extreme Events in U.S. Waters Since 2012

The 2012 North Atlantic heat wave was concentrated in the Gulf of Maine; however, shorter periods with very warm temperatures extended from Cape Hatteras to Iceland during the summer of 2012. American lobster and longfin squid and their associated fisheries were impacted by the event.1 The North Pacific event began in 20142 and extended toward the shore in 20153,4 and into the Gulf of Alaska in 2016,5,6 leading to a large bloom of toxic algae that impacted the Dungeness crab fishery and contributed directly and indirectly to deaths of sea lions and humpback whales. U.S. coral reefs that experienced moderate to severe bleaching during the 2015–2016 global mass bleaching event7 are indicated by coral icons. From Figure 9.3 (Source: Gulf of Maine Research Institute).

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