CR 14:219-233 (2000)  -  doi:10.3354/cr014219

The potential impacts of climate change on the mid-Atlantic coastal region

Raymond G. Najjar1,*, Henry A. Walker2, Patti J. Anderson3, Eric J. Barron4, Richard J. Bord5, Jody R. Gibson6, Victor S. Kennedy7, C. Gregory Knight8, J. Patrick Megonigal9, Robert E. O¹Connor10, Colin D. Polsky8, Norbert P. Psuty11, Bruce A. Richards12, Lisa G. Sorenson13, Eric M. Steele8, Robert S. Swanson1

1Department of Meteorology, 3Environmental Resources Research Institute, 4The Environment Institute, 5Department of Sociology, 6Department of Geosciences, 8Department of Geography, and 10Department of Political Science, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA
2Atlantic Ecology Division, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, US Environmental Protection Agency, 27 Tarzwell Drive, Narragansett, Rhode Island 02882, USA
7Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, 2020 HornsPoint Rd, Cambridge, Maryland 21613, USA
9Department of Biology, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia 22030-4444, USA
11Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, 71 Dudley Road, Rutgers University, Cook Campus, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901, USA
12Delaware Center for the Inland Bays, 467 Highway One, Lewes, Delaware 19969, USA
13Department of Biology, Boston University, 5 Cummington Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA

ABSTRACT: This paper assesses the potential impacts of climate change on the mid-Atlantic coastal (MAC) region of the United States. In order of increasing uncertainty, it is projected that sea level, temperature and streamflow will increase in the MAC region in response to higher levels of atmospheric CO2. A case study for Delaware based on digital elevation models suggests that, by the end of the 21st century, 1.6% of its land area and 21% of its wetlands will be lost to an encroaching sea. Sea-level rise will also result in higher storm surges, causing 100 yr floods to occur 3 or 4 times more frequently by the end of the 21st century. Increased accretion in coastal wetlands, however, which may occur in response to increases in CO2, temperature, and streamflow, could mitigate some of the flooding effect of sea-level rise. Warming alone will result in northward displacements of some mobile estuarine species and will exacerbate the already low summer oxygen levels in mid-Atlantic estuaries because of increased oxygen demand and decreased oxygen solubility. Streamflow increases could substantially degrade water quality, with significant negative consequences for submerged aquatic vegetation and birds. Though climate change may have some positive impacts on the MAC region, such as increased coastal tourism due to warming and some ecological benefits from less-frequent harsh winters, most impacts are expected to be negative. Policies designed to minimize adverse ecological impacts of human activities on coastal ecosystems in the mid-Atlantic, such as decreases in nutrient loading of watersheds, could help mitigate some of the risks associated with future climate variability and change in this region.

KEY WORDS: Climate change impacts · Coastal regions · Sea-level rise

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