While climate change impacts vary regionally, coastal communities and estuaries are clearly
on the front lines of climate change. Coastal ecosystems, especially estuaries,
are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of global climate change for three major reasons:
1) Estuaries are influenced by both upland and coastal environmental factors.
Since estuaries are where two distinct bodies of water meet and mix, each
body of water brings its own unique climate sensitivities causing estuaries
to have more climate impacts than many other ecosystems. For example,
an estuary would feel the impact of both a reduced water levels caused
by a climate related drought and climate induced changes in ocean currents.
since estuaries lie at the interface of terrestrial and marine environments.
2) Estuaries are highly productive ecosystems
because they are shallow, nutrient-rich, protected waters. However, being
comprised of shallow waters mean that estuaries do not have a buffer to
absorb changes in the environmental associated with climate change,
such as sea level rise or changes in water temperature.
3) Many estuaries are already experiencing the stresses of coastal development.
The coastal lands of the contiguous U.S. represents 17% of the nation’s
continental land area, yet is inhabited by over half of the U.S. population.
Climate change will interact with existing stresses from coastal development,
intensifying their negative impacts on estuaries.