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Economics & Social Sciences Research Program

Current Efforts to Understand the Effects of Climate Change on Ocean Services in the United States

An effort is under way to draft the 2013 National Climate Assessment (NCA) Oceans and Marine Resources Technical Report. The purpose of the report is to collect, document, and synthesize the state of knowledge on the ecological, economical, and cultural effects of climate change on U.S. and neighboring oceans and marine ecosystems and their resources.

The 2013 NCA will be used to a) produce a report designed to help the federal government provide climate change information and assessments that can be used by communities to create a more sustainable and environmentally sound plan for the future; and b) establish a framework for ongoing and future assessments of regional impacts and adaptive capacity. In particular, ESSR social scientists are leading efforts to draft a chapter of the report that synthesizes the effects of climate change on ocean services and human uses of marine resources.

This chapter will attempt to identify many of the important areas and directions of potential socio-economic effects of climate change on marine resources. The socio-economic effects of climate change on marine resources (both specific resources and environments and habitats the "ecosystem") will be based on an assessment of climate change effects on specific biophysical marine resources and environments.

For example, the effects of climate change on human fishing communities will be assessed given specific changes expected in fish populations and their characteristics stemming from climate change, followed by an assessment of the impacts of those changes on fishing behaviors, industries, infrastructure, communities, etc. This leads to one of the limitations in our current ability to assess these socio-economic impacts uncertainty regarding the rate, direction, and extent of change in biophysical aspects of marine resources attributable to climate change. The direction of these changes may be the clearest the rate and extent the least clear.

In order to address these and other issues associated with the effects of climate change on ocean services, the chapter will focus on case studies of currently documentable changes occurring in specific marine resources and associated socio-economic impacts throughout all U.S. marine regions, including the North Pacific. The corpus of such case studies is at the moment not large, but certain conclusions can be drawn from available data and information.

Beyond the case studies, the authors also plan to construct generally expected scenarios of impact that may occur given certain changes in specific marine resources and environments. Finally, the chapter will explore the implications of all of these changes in the context of different marine resource governance systems; will these changes result in the need for new or different governance regimes or will they simply require adaptation of existing regimes and if so, what kinds of adaptation?

Preliminary findings from the research in this chapter suggest that substantial socio-economic effects will result from changes in marine resources due to climate change.

By Amber Himes

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