A Sea Of Change

2019-08-22T15:30:43+00:00 March 4, 2019|

From: Ocean News Weekly/ By: Ocean Leadership Staff 

What It Was

The House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on the Environment held a hearing titled: “Sea Change: Impacts of Climate Change on Our Oceans and Coasts.”

Why It Matters

The ocean absorbs much of the excess carbon dioxide and heat in the atmosphere protecting humanity against some of the more adverse impacts of climate change. However, this causes major thermal and chemical changes resulting in warmer, more acidic, and less oxygenated water. This increased stress disrupts important benefits that ocean systems and resources provide to communities, e.g., endangering coastal economies and putting coral reef-associated fisheries and tourism at risk.

Key Points

There was agreement among subcommittee members and witnesses that failure to address climate change’s impacts on the ocean and coasts would be not only harm the environment but the economy, coastal communities, and food security as well. Witnesses explained the science behind rising ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, deoxygenation, and sea level rise, as well as its detrimental effects on marine organisms, such as coral, shellfish, and fish. Dr. Sarah Cooley (Director, Ocean Acidification Program, Ocean Conservancy) pointed out that effects of climate change are regionally variable and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However best practices that emerge from handling a particular issue can be shared with other communities so that solutions to similar problems can be developed with foresight.

Dr. Radley Horton (Lamont Associate Research Professor, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University Earth Institute) focused his remarks on sea level rise. He explained how the most optimistic scenario from the Fourth National Climate Assessment, an increase of just one foot by 2100, would result in more frequent and intense coastal flooding that would destroy homes; threaten critical infrastructure such as interstates, rail lines, and airports; create public health and safety issues; and lead to national security implications.

When asked about addressing research challenges and areas of innovation for climate adaptation and mitigation, witnesses stressed the importance of remote observing systems, integrated technology systems for interpreting collected data, greater resources for modeling, and real-time ocean data collection. Dr. Thomas Frazer (Professor and Director, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Florida) compared this gap in ocean data collection with the lag in fisheries data, which often results in catch limits based on dated population numbers.

This was the legislative hearing for the recently introduced Coastal and Ocean Acidification Stressors and Threats (COAST) Research Act (H.R. 1237), introduced by Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1), co-chair of the House Oceans Caucus. This bill is intended to strengthen investment into researching and monitoring the effects of ocean acidification on ocean and coastal communities, including socioeconomically. The legislation would also provide long-term stewardship and standardization of data on ocean acidification and coastal acidification using existing assets from the National Centers for Environmental Information and the Integrated Ocean Observing System.


“Like plant and animal life on land, marine life and oceans themselves evolve.  The chemistry and ecology change and life adapts. It has been happening for millions of years. Unfortunately, scientific evidence suggests that the pace of change has increased over the last century, adding more stress to our complex marine ecosystems. Some of this stress is the result of increased levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere that are absorbed by the ocean. The result is a change in the chemistry of the oceans in which researchers have noted increased water temperature, lower pH levels, and decreased oxygen levels in certain areas.”— Ranking Member Roger Marshall (KS-1)

“We need to understand how to apply individual findings to ecosystem scales and how to use that knowledge in an equitable, well-planned approach that will reduce the stress from ocean climate change on marine ecosystems and the human communities they support.”— Dr. Sarah Cooley (Director, Ocean Acidification Program, Ocean Conservancy)

“Across the whole U.S., high water levels that used to happen once per hundred years become things that you expect during lifetime of the typical home mortgage and in many places, every year or two, you could be seeing those high water levels occurring that used to once every hundred years.” — Dr. Radley Horton (Lamont Associate Research Professor, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University Earth Institute)

Find Out More

Watch the full hearing

Related coverage from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership          

Want to receive articles like this straight to your inbox? Sign up for our newsletter!