Date:  March 10, 2011


Naval Forces Need to Prepare for Effects of Climate Change

WASHINGTON — In response to the measured and projected effects of climate change, U.S. naval forces should begin now to strengthen 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.  Although the ultimate consequences of future climate change remain uncertain, many effects such as melting sea ice in the Arctic and rising sea levels are already under way and require U.S. naval monitoring and action.


“Even the most moderate predicted trends in climate change will present new national security challenges for the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard,” said Frank L. Bowman, co-chair of the committee that wrote the report and a retired U.S. navy admiral.  “Naval forces need to monitor more closely and start preparing now for projected challenges climate change will present in the future.”


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


U.S. 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, the report says.  U.S. 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.


In addition, for Arctic national security operations, the U.S. 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 humanitarian assistance and disaster relief 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 U.S. 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,” said Antonio J. Busalacchi, committee co-chair and director of the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center at the University of Maryland, College Park.  “Naval forces must be prepared to provide more aid and disaster relief in the decades ahead.”


The report notes that rising sea levels accompanied by stronger, more frequent storm surges could leave U.S. 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 study was sponsored by the U.S. 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.  They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter.  The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  For more information, visit  A committee roster follows.



Molly Galvin, Senior Media Relations Officer

Shaquanna Shields, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail




Pre-publication copies of National Security Implications of Climate Change for U.S. Naval Forces are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).


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Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences

Naval Studies Board


Committee on National Security Implications of Climate Change for U.S. Naval Forces 


Frank L. Bowman (co-chair)1


Strategic Decisions LLC

North Potomac, Md.


Antonio J. Busalacchi Jr. (co-chair)


Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, and


Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

University of Maryland

College Park


Arthur B. Baggeroer

Secretary of the Navy/Chief of Naval Operations

Chair in Oceanographic Science, and

Ford Professor of Engineering

Department of Mechanical Engineering, and

Professor of Electrical and Ocean Engineering

Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Massachusetts Institute of Technology



Cecilia Bitz

Associate Professor

Department of Atmospheric Sciences

University of Washington



Ronald Filadelfo

Research Team Leader

Environment and Energy Research Team


Alexandria, Va.


Jeffrey M. Garret

Independent Consultant 

Mercer Island, Wa


Harry W. Jenkins Jr.


Soaring Eagle Consulting LLC

Gainesville, Va. 


Catherine M. Kelleher

Senior Faculty Associate

Watson Institute for International Studies

Brown University, and

Professor for Public Policy

Center for International Security Studies

University of Maryland

College Park


Mahlon C. Kennicutt II

Professor of Chemical Oceanography and Director of

Sustainable Development

Texas A&M University

College Station


Ronald R. Luman


National Security Analysis Department

Applied Physics Laboratory

Johns Hopkins University

Laurel, Md.


W. Berry Lyons

Distinguished Professor of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, and


Byrd Polar Research Laboratory

Ohio State University



James J. McCarthy

Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography

Harvard University

Cambridge, Mass.


Michael J. McPhaden

Senior Scientist

Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration



John H. Moxley III2

Independent Consultant, and

Managing Director

North American Health Division

Korn/Ferry International (retired)

Solvang, Calif.


David J. Nash1


Dave Nash and Associates LLC

Hamilton, Va.


Heidi C. Perry 


Internal Research and Development

Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc.

Cambridge, Mass.


J. Marshall Shepherd

Associate Professor

Department of Geography

University of Georgia



Charles F. Wald

Director and Senior Adviser

Deloitte LLP

Washington, D.C.

David A. Whelan1

Vice President

Strategic Innovation, Phantom Works, and

Chief Scientist

Integrated Defense Systems

Boeing Co.

Seal Beach, Calif.


Carl Wunsch3

Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physical Oceanography

Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences

Massachusetts Institute of Technology





Billy Williams

Study Director


1        Member, National Academy of Engineering

2        Member, Institute of Medicine

3        Member, National Academy of Sciences