Policy Priorities

Ocean Leadership brochure

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Ocean Science Priorities:

Disasters: Protecting Lives and Property Disasters: Protecting Lives and Property

The ocean covers 71% of the Earth’s surface and transfers enormous amounts of heat, energy, and carbon to and from the atmosphere, which drives weather patterns and influences extreme events such as droughts, floods, hurricanes, tropical storms and El Nino events, as well as changes in ocean productivity. Last year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency declared a record 99 disasters, nearly all of them caused by extreme weather, including flooding, wind damage, drought and wildfires. Hurricane Sandy was the 11th billion-dollar weather-related disaster in the U.S in 2012. While Sandy took more than 100 lives and is estimated to have created more than $50 billion in damage to property, infrastructure, and lost business, its impacts on the local environment and communities will be felt for many years. Since 1990, total government exposure to losses in hurricane ravaged states has grown more than 15-fold to $885 billion in 2011. Sustaining and improving our prediction capabilities to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of extreme events will enable resource managers, emergency personnel and ocean/coastal industries to adapt and mitigate short and long-term damages. We recommend the following actions:

  • Improve accuracy of sea-level projections through research on glacial/ice sheet melt and ice/sea dynamics to guide responsible coastal development and formulate effective adaptation plans;
  • Assess physical and socioeconomic vulnerabilities to sea-level rise, saltwater intrusion, and extreme events and develop resilient and sustainable infrastructure systems;
  • Support research to enhance the observation and monitoring of extreme events to better inform prediction and modeling capabilities; and
  • Promote and sustain the collection of paleoclimate data to understand past and present climate variability.

Energy: Securing Energy IndependenceEnergy: Securing Energy Independence

The offshore environment will likely be at the forefront of America’s attempt to achieve energy independence in a responsible manner. The economic and job creation impacts of this new frontier of development are enormous as are the potential environmental benefits achieved through renewable ocean energy sources. Nationwide installation of offshore wind farms could create more than 43,000 permanent operations and maintenance jobs; by 2025 ocean wave energy could provide at least 10% of U.S. electric supply; and algae may prove to be a future viable alternative fuel source. Yet each of these options requires additional research and development to make them commercially viable. The expansion of oil and gas drilling to full capacity in our EEZ and OCS zone would provide 190,000 new jobs and contribute $45 billion to the U.S. Economy. Of course, the benefits of energy extraction need to be balanced with robust planning to minimize or mitigate against the potential negative consequences of oil spills on natural ecosystems, tourism and fishing industries. To ensure that science is at the forefront of developing new technologies and ensuring safe and reliable delivery of energy, we recommend the following actions:

  • Reinvest a small fraction of royalties from offshore energy exploration and development into an ocean trust fund to support renewable energy research and development and scientific observations and monitoring to be prepared to mitigate problems such as potential spills;
  • Promote revenue sharing from a carbon tax to support clean energy technology research, development and deployment as well as federal, state, and industry related ocean acidification research, monitoring, mitigation and adaptation strategies;
  • Foster academic industry partnerships to promote research, development and application of safe ocean energy development extraction practices; and
  • Expand and integrate oceanographic and meteorological data collected by offshore energy production to improve spill response and greater understanding of the surrounding ocean ecosystem.

Fisheries: Sustaining Ocean ProductivityFisheries: Sustaining Ocean Productivity

Ocean ecosystems have been subjected to decades of intense fishing, urban and agricultural runoff, and the loss and degradation of estuaries and wetlands. Furthermore, changes in ocean temperatures, salinity, currents and acidity are having significant impacts on marine living resources. The incidence of hypoxia (dead zones) has increased almost 30-fold in the United States since 1960, with more than 300 systems recently experiencing hypoxia. The Washington state shellfish industry, which is worth over $270 million to the U.S. economy, recently suffered an 80% loss in productivity due to elevated ocean acidity. U.S. commercial and saltwater recreational fisheries support almost two million jobs and generate more than $160 billion in sales. Yet, $31 billion in sales and as many as 500,000 jobs are lost because our fisheries are not performing as well as they would if all stocks were rebuilt. To help ensure that we have access to sustainable marine living resources we recommend the following actions:

  • Support Farm Bill conservation programs and services to reduce runoff of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment from agricultural activities, which is causing harmful algal blooms and dead zones;
  • Advance basic and applied research of planktonic food web dynamics and fisheries to support integrated management of marine living resources; and
  • Develop a national ocean acidification observing network to better understand and predict the impact of ocean acidification on ecosystems and marine industries.

Security: Preparing for Threats to National SecuritySecurity: Preparing for Threats to National Security

Rapidly changing climate, weather, water and disease patterns will likely exacerbate regional and local tensions, thus increasing international instability involving water scarcity, food shortages, natural resource competition, and overpopulation. An increasing depletion of Arctic ice will lead to competition over resources, and militarization may intensify sovereignty conflicts. Sea-level rise, altered weather patterns and extreme events will threaten America’s infrastructure, economy, food-security and citizenry. America’s military bases are also particularly vulnerable and the National Intelligence Council has judged that more than 30 military installations are already facing elevated levels of risk from rising sea levels. Resiliency and the ability to adapt and mitigate to a changing climate are essential for America at home and abroad and will shape Department of Defense (DoD) missions and impact military facilities and capabilities. Consequently, we recommend the following actions to help our nation prevail in current conflicts and prepare for future engagements:

  • Develop climate science, models, tools and new technologies, and improve extreme forecasting ability to meet DoD operational needs including adapting coastal installations to sea-level rise;
  • Advance understanding of abrupt climate change scenarios and likelihood;
  • Improve mapping, monitoring and physical models of ocean-ice-atmosphere interactions as well as currents, sea ice, storm frequency and intensity, permafrost and coastal zone bathymetry; and
  • Address the decline in earth observing satellite capacity and expected gaps in critical climate and weather data by consolidating within NASA the design and procurement of earth observing satellites.

Arctic: Understanding a Transforming ArcticArctic: Understanding a Transforming Arctic

The Arctic Ocean is of great strategic importance to the nation as it contains tremendous natural resources, is a future trade route, and is a critical driver of the global climate. The offshore Arctic holds 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13% of its oil reserves. Furthermore, the Arctic supports large commercial fish populations that contribute to Alaska’s $1.5 billion fishing industry. The loss of Arctic sea ice will dramatically impact commerce and the national economy through increased access to the Arctic’s valuable living and nonliving resources as well as the opening of the Northwest Passage and Northern Sea Route for shipping. Loss of shorefast ice and thawing of permafrost is also threatening a number of coastal Native American communities. The following science priorities will improve our understanding of the airsea-ice relationship to facilitate our ability to forecast the changing Arctic and enhance safe access to and conservation of the sea and its resources. In order to accomplish these objectives, we recommend:

  • An enduring integrated Arctic observing system to monitor air-sea-ice interactions and changing ecosystems and their impacts on marine life and human livelihoods, utilizing new, autonomous systems and platforms capable of working in harsh environments;
  • Research and modeling of oil in and under ice covered waters as well as evaluating dispersants in Arctic conditions;
  • Research to better forecast future rates of sea ice melting, including research to understand and measure sea ice thickness and the ocean’s role in the formation and melting of sea ice; and
  • Monitor the extent of freshwater exiting the Arctic to decipher its impact on regional and global ocean circulation and changing climatic patterns.