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NRC report: US Navy, Marines and Coast Guard need to begin now to prepare for effects of climate change in the Arctic

The Arctic region, in this report, is defined as the area north of the Arctic Circle (highlighted on this map in red). Click to enlarge.

In response to the measured and projected effects of climate change, US naval forces—i.e., the US Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard—should begin now to strengthen operational capabilities in the Arctic, prepare for more frequent humanitarian missions, and analyze potential vulnerabilities of seaside bases and facilities, says a new report by the National Research Council.

In response to the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), the National Research Council appointed a committee operating under the auspices of the Naval Studies Board to study the national security implications of climate change for US naval forces. The committee found that even the most moderate current trends in climate, if continued, will present new national security challenges. Although the timing, degree, and consequence of future climate change impacts remain uncertain, many changes are already under way in regions around the world, such as in the Arctic, and call for action by US naval leadership in response, the report found.

The Terms of Reference (TOR) directed the study to:

  1. Examine the potential impact on US future naval operations and capabilities as a result of climate change.

  2. Assess the robustness of the Department of Defense’s infrastructure for supporting US future naval operations and capabilities in the context of potential climate change impacts.

  3. Determine the potential impact climate change will have on allied force operations and capabilities.

  4. Examine the potential impact on US future naval antisubmarine warfare operations and capabilities in the world’s oceans as a result of climate change; specifically, the technical underpinnings for projecting US undersea dominance in light of the changing physical properties of the oceans.

The report organized its findings around six discussion areas:

  1. Disputes of boundaries and exclusive economic zones as a result of new maritime transits and competition of new resources;

  2. Strains on naval capabilities, given continuing first responder missions, and the opening of new international and territorial waters;

  3. Vulnerabilities to naval coastal installations due to sea-level rise and increased storm surges;

  4. Demands for establishing greater US, allied, and/or international maritime partnerships;

  5. Impacts on the technical underpinnings that enable, in part, naval force capabilities, particularly those that operate and train in the Arctic; and

  6. Investments for additional research and development that have implications for future naval operations and capabilities and might not be met by other groups pursuing climate-related research.

Summer sea ice in the Arctic is declining at an estimated rate of 10% per decade or more, and Arctic Ocean sea lanes could be open as early as the summer of 2030. US security challenges are growing as shipping, oil and gas exploration, and other activities increase in the region, the report says. To protect US interests, US naval forces need to fund a strong, consistent effort to increase Arctic operations and cold weather training programs.

US naval leaders should continue to stress to Congress the value and operational benefits of ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the report says. US naval forces should also work with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and allies to strengthen international capabilities to respond to predicted climate change challenges in the Arctic and worldwide.

Although the likelihood of conflict in the Arctic is low, it cannot be ruled out, and competition in the region is a given. However, cooperation in the region should not be considered a given, even with close allies. Although there are mechanisms for bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the area, including the Arctic Council, these relationships and mechanisms are largely untested for emerging conditions. Additionally, with the ratification of UNCLOS, US naval forces will be better positioned to conduct future naval operations and protect national security interests, especially in the Arctic.

The report recommends that the leadership of US naval forces build maritime partnerships in the Arctic region and encourages the United States to continue to identify and adopt policies and relationships in the Arctic that will build cooperation for new circumstances and minimize the risks of confrontation. (For example, naval leaders should pursue bilateral and multilateral training and exercising of US naval personnel with partner nation personnel in maritime security, search and rescue, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR), and continue strong support of the US efforts in the Arctic Council.)

There should be no assumption that the geostrategic situation will take care of itself or that US interests in the region are currently protected and promoted.

In addition, for Arctic national security operations, the US Coast Guard should have operational control of the nation’s three icebreakers, rather than the National Science Foundation. The report reiterates a previous Research Council report that says the icebreakers—which should provide access to many sites throughout the year—are old, obsolete, and underfunded. The Coast Guard should have the authority to determine future icebreaker requirements.

Naval forces will also need to meet growing demands for HA/DR efforts in response to a range of predicted crises created by climate change, including floods, droughts, intense storms, and geopolitical unrest. Of particular concern is the future of US Navy hospital ships to provide evacuation services and trauma care. The Navy and Marine Corps should retain the medical capability of the current two-ship hospital fleet at a minimum and also consider other options such as contracting with private ships to meet growing demands. In the near term, the report says, the Navy need not specifically fund new capabilities to deal with projected climate change but instead modify existing structures and forces as demands become more clear.

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 due to the changing nature of the hydrologic cycle and sea level. Naval forces must be prepared to provide more aid and disaster relief in the decades ahead.

—Antonio J. Busalacchi, committee co-chair and director of the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center at the University of Maryland, College Park

The report notes that rising sea levels accompanied by stronger, more frequent storm surges could leave US naval installations vulnerable. An estimated $100 billion of Navy installations would be at risk from sea-level rise of 1 meter or more. The Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard should work together to ensure that a coordinated analysis addresses vulnerabilities of shore-based facilities to the consequences of climate change.

The report also discusses climate-change-related technical issues impacting naval operations.

...there is a high likelihood that a warming climate will increase the operational tempo in polar regions; consequently, the demands on navigation systems, communication systems, and nautical charts in polar regions will intensify. The initial increase in tempo will be driven by scientific and exploratory missions, especially so in the Arctic. As the degree of precision required by military combat operations can be more extreme than that required by peacetime operations, if tensions in the Arctic increase, the technical challenges will be multiplied.

Some of the technical issues include:

  • naval navigation systems infrastructure;
  • communication systems performance in polar regions;
  • ice characterization in operational safety in Arctic navigation;
  • climate-change-related antisubmarine warfare (ASW) impacts; and
  • submarine operations.

The study was sponsored by the US Department of the Navy. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.




This report, and the time & money spent preparing it, is really a colossal waste. There is only one permanent US military facility within the red circle - Thule Air Base in Greenland, which has been there for decades and decades and isn't going to be affected by climate change any time soon. Our government is $14 Trillion in debt and we're paying for ridiculous "studies" like this? Shameful.


ejj, are you employed by the Cato Institute?


I read that 2 of the 3 U.S. ice breakers are in need of repair and now Congress is on a cost cutting trend. We can talk of what should be done, but if there are no funds, then it is just talk.

Nick Lyons

ejj: I believe you are not reading the article carefully. Rising sea levels is a global phenomenon. Naval bases are mostly on the coast, in harbors, etc., all over the world Get a clue.


Nick: I believe I am reading the article carefully as it discusses specific things the military should do now to prepare for climate change in the Arctic. Please read through the article and tell us how the study applies to the rest of the world. My argument is that someone spent a lot of time on money on an alarmist sounding study for an area of the world (inside the red circle) that only has one tiny, relatively insignificant US military installation. To say that the military doesn't know how to operate in snow & ice is laughable since it already has experience in all climates. To me it sounds like the Navy had money they had to burn & didn't know what to waste it on so they had someone do this...ultimately so they could get the same or more funding for the next FY. It's ridiculous & has to stop.


Quoting the article: "4. Examine the potential impact on US future naval antisubmarine warfare operations and capabilities in the world’s oceans as a result of climate change;"


@alvin: water level might be a little higher, if any change at all...DONE.


Actually the rise in sea level is only the long term effect. In the near term the greater issue is the opening of a new sea route. With the melting of sea ice in the summer ships (both commercial and military of other nations) will be able to transit through the Arctic from/to many other places in the world's oceans. That changes a lot of things too numerous to list here, things that need to be studied.


Why is USA short of cash and going deeper in debt for the next 10+ years?

Didn't it start as soon as WB was voted in?

How many $$$$B were spent in the current wars?

How many $$T were spent trying to save Banks and Wall Street?

How $$$B were spent to save major Industries from going bankrupt?

How many $$$B were spent in unemployment pay to save people from hunger?

How many $$$B are being spent trying to reduce oil imports?

How many more $$$$B will be spent trying to fix USA's economy?

USA's economic tsunami started in 2000/2001 and may not be fixed before 2020+, if it can be fixed.

Meanwhile, it is spreading worldwide and could last one or two generations or until a new world order takes over.


Harvey, your economic fears are so far out of proportion it is amusing. Consider this: the world's total above-ground economic trade (+Trillions) is matched dollar for dollar by the unreported but ever present underground economy.

ai_vin wishes to call anything and everything a result of "climate change." Navy can and does study change in northern navigable waters WITHOUT claiming it "climate."

This IS a total waste of taxpayer money and those who authorized it should be sent to Antarctica. Immediately.


Bankruptcy began forming when Reagan cut the rich tax rate in half - before loopholes.

The middle class CAN'T "bite the bullet" forever.


.. How many extra calories does a billionaire need daily?

Return to the wealthy tax rate that worked. Whether by honest vote or the final "let them eat cake" response, more than the climate will change.


..One percent(1%) of America sequesters ninety-five(95%) of America's wealth.


..Could letting a filthy rich class run things explain many of today's problems?


This IS a total waste of taxpayer money and those who authorized it should be sent to Antarctica. Immediately.

Ah yes, Antarctica: That place Reel always goes to when he feeling the oppressive heat of the facts.


It is always spelled the same:



How long can a well played Monopoly game last when major players are allowed to go deeper and deeper in debt?

How did Germany end their post WWI Monopoly Game?

How did USA and other industrial nations recover from the 1929/1930 economic crisis?

History has the bad habit or replaying itself in similar but slightly different ways.

When less than 5% have accumulated 95% of a country's wealth many more Tunisia, Egypt, Libya turmoils may a tendency to pop out. In peace loving, law abiding countries, that can be avoided with appropriate changes in economic regulations and taxation. Will the 5% allow it?


HarveyD - America isn't as peace loving / law abiding and as wealthy as it used to be anymore. If our redistributionist president & democrats keep removing incentives for productivity and innovation, we'll be the Union of Socialist States of America very soon.

Coke Machine


Give me a list of all the jobs you've gotten from poor people


"Today, the top .001% of the U.S. population owns 976 times more than the entire bottom 90%."

The list of employees that have hired me, and you I suspect, were mostly in the poor people 90% category above.


Naturally, you can provide your list showing that most of the immediate bosses having hired you own 976 times more than the entire bottom 90%.


ejj...higher level of redistribution of wealth may become a necessity within 2 or 3 decades or even before. Even Warren Buffet is saying that they are not paying enough taxes while the ER Parties want to lower taxes.


A 'Navy..prep..Artic climate change' article doesn't seem a direct link to US wealth distribution - yet many GCC articles depend on economics and the comments follow.

A .001% of the US population means nothing to food production, the basis of civilization - yet the rich buying laws for themselves has lead to economic imbalance, massive poverty, unaffordable healthcare, and political instability.

Particularly when facts are a Google away, no human being believes another human feels, thinks, works, eats, or lives their lives so much better that they are honestly worth a billion times more than the next guy - people know that's physically impossible.

"The size of America’s income disparity is nearly twice that of the average of other nations."(above link - OECD) Deregulated business, rich tax cuts/payoffs/loopholes/war contracts/.., and a US executive branch crushing government "checks and balances" is destroying people that will not bend over forever.


ejj: USA still has 300+ of the world 600+ multi billionaires and 10000+ of the world 50,000+ multi-millionaires. The first 300+ people have almost the same NET wealth as the other 300 million Americans.

If the current trend continues, about 500 American multi-billionaires will have more wealth than all Americans and governments combined. As States and Fed governments and individuals debt increase, their net worth may be negative soon. That would drive the unbalance to unsustainable levels. The last major (1929/1930) crisis may look minute in comparison to what could happen if improved financial regulations and more equitable and possibly higher taxation is not implemented soon. Governments and rather poor individuals cannot continue to spend more then they earn to keep the economy artificially going forward.


How does climate change become a rich v poor diatribe every time...ahem, kelly? OT??

Of the 41016.69 Billion gross world product above ground - there is an equal amount underground. That is untaxed at any rate. What are we to do about all this untaxed money driving the underground economy? Just because you're a once-poor Latino making millions off the coca - shouldn't you pay SOME taxes too?

@ ai_vin, you might find this talk interesting:

"The climate science assessments of the IPCC and CCSP, as well as the various statements issued by the AGU, AMS and NRC, are completed by a small subset of climate scientists who are often the same individuals in each case."

Dr. Roger Pielke Sr. University Colorado Boulder, The House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee Hearing Climate Science and EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulation

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