The importance of understanding climate change effects in the Gulf of Maine.
Climate change is anticipated to have wide ranging effects on many elements of the Gulf of Maine region, including its ecosystems, habitats and coastal communities. The Earth's climate system is driven by several factors, including the amount of incoming sunlight, volcanic activity, land use changes, and the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Over the last century, average global temperature has increased by about 0.6°C [1°F], in part due to increasing greenhouse gases from human activities.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects a global mean atmospheric temperature increase of 1.1°C to 6.4°C by 2100 (IPCC AR4, 2007). A rise in temperature of this magnitude and rate is likely to affect global patterns of storms and precipitation, raise global sea levels through the thermal expansion of the oceans and the melting of continental ice sheets and glaciers, increase ocean temperatures, reduce ocean salinity and affect ocean chemistry. All of these will have effects on ecosystems and human settlement. The extent of these global climate impacts will be influenced by many regional and local factors in the Gulf of Maine. In addition, these pressures interact with each other and with other non-climate related pressures, such as coastal development pressures, habitat degradation, pollution and changes in natural resources.
Potential changes in the aquatic environment in the Gulf of Maine as a result of climate change include increases in water temperature, decreases in salinity and changes in water quality and quantity. These changes will affect the sustainability of fisheries, including both targeted and traditional species used in the Gulf of Maine. As an example, conditions may no longer be favorable for some species, and exotic species may find a niche to colonize and outcompete, the rate of ecosystem change may be too rapid for species to adapt. Sea level rise will also be an important pressure on coastal habitats and ecosystems, for example, by fragmenting and adding to the loss of coastal wetlands.
Climate change mitigation and adaptation are recognized as essential strategies to reduce the vulnerability of the Gulf of Maine to these climatic changes.