The Navy and Coast Guard need to prepare for more missions in the Arctic, and plan for potential damage to bases from rising sea levels, as global warming increases, the National Research Council said Thursday.
"Naval forces need to monitor more closely and start preparing now for projected challenges climate change will present in the future," Frank L. Bowman, a retired Navy admiral who was co-chairman of the committee that wrote the report, said in a statement.
The new analysis noted that ocean sea lanes could be regularly open across the Arctic by 2030 as rising temperatures continue to melt the sea ice. It said the Navy needs to increase its cold-weather training and operations programs so it will be able to protect U.S. interests in the region.
With greater access to the Arctic increased gas and oil exploration is likely, in addition to opening of sea lanes for transportation, the report said.
Global temperatures have been gradually increasing for the last century or so and most atmospheric scientists attribute the change to so-called greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere by industrial and other processes. Polar regions are expected to be especially vulnerable to change, which has been reflected in melting ice caps.
The new study also warns that climate change would bring rising sea levels, potentially accompanied by stronger, more frequent storm surges. This could endanger Navy and Coast Guard installations. An estimated $100 billion of Navy installations would be at risk from sea-level rise of three feet or more, the study said. It called on the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard to coordinate efforts to reduce these hazards.
The report also noted that climate change could put more stress on naval forces providing humanitarian missions around the world.
"Although the future degree and magnitude of climate change on regional scales is uncertain, it's clear that the potential for environmental disasters is on the rise," said committee co-chair Antonio J. Busalacchi, director of the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center at the University of Maryland. "Naval forces must be prepared to provide more aid and disaster relief in the decades ahead."
The report from the research council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, was requested by the Navy. The academy is an independent agency chartered by Congress to advise the government on scientific matters.