Research Report

Confronting Climate Change in the Gulf Coast Region: Prospects for Sustaining Our Ecological Heritage

Robert R. Twilley
Eric J. Barron
Henry L. Gholz
Mark A. Harwell
Richard L. Miller
Denise J. Reed
Joan B. Rose
Evan H. Siemann
Robert G. Wetzel
Roger J. Zimmerman
Copyright Date: Oct. 1, 2001
Pages: 100
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Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Figures
    (pp. v-vi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Executive Summary
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  6. Chapter One: Climate and People as Drivers of Ecosystem Change
    (pp. 1-14)

    The natural landscapes, waterways, and ecological processes of the Gulf Coast have been significantly altered by human activities ranging from upstream dam construction to shoreline development. Such human-generated stresses will only increase with continuing rapid population growth in the region. Climate changes driven by rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will exacerbate these direct human influences on Gulf Coast ecosystems and the goods and services they provide. Increasing CO2 levels will result in warmer temperatures, which in turn will contribute to an accelerated rise in sea level and to changes in evaporation...

  7. Chapter Two: Vulnerability of Gulf Coast Ecosystems
    (pp. 15-20)

    The flat Gulf Coast landscape formed as a result of changes in sea level over the past 125 million years. Rising and falling sea levels, along with sediment-carrying water flowing in rivers, repeatedly eroded and built up land. The resulting combination of uplands, alluvial plains built from waterborne sediments, shoreline landforms, and the most extensive wetland areas in the United States hosts a diversity of ecosystems that remain vitally linked by the flow of water (Figures 11a & 11b). Distributed across this landscape is a variety of natural as well as managed ecosystems, including forestry, agriculture, and aquaculture operations. Below we...

  8. Chapter Three: Consequences of Climate Change for Gulf Coast Ecosystems
    (pp. 21-49)

    Natural ecosystems must constantly adjust to natural variations in climate. Generally they are more sensitive to climate extremes than to changes in average conditions. In addition to natural and human-induced changes in climate, other human disturbances increasingly buffet natural systems. Because both human and climate-related disturbances can have important impacts on the goods and services that ecosystems provide, it is important to evaluate the significance of ecosystem changes driven by human activities relative to those driven by climate change. Not every driver of change is equally certain or equally significant for ecosystems. Here we highlight those potential consequences of climate...

  9. Chapter Four: Consequences of a Changing Climate for Ecosystem Goods and Services
    (pp. 50-58)

    The ecological impacts of climate change will have important implications for the goods and services that ecosystems provide to society. As the previous chapter indicates, climate-driven changes must be viewed in the context of human pressures and land-use changes that are already stressing ecosystems. Below we focus on the consequences of climate change for water, air, land, and coastal resources, as well as for the health and well-being of human populations.

    Current and growing demands on freshwater resources by cities, farms, and industries leave the Gulf Coast vulnerable to even slight changes in the seasonal or geographic distribution of fresh...

  10. Chapter Five: Meeting the Challenges of Climate Change
    (pp. 59-68)

    Climate change is likely to have a number of disruptive impacts on Gulf Coast ecosystems, as discussed above, especially in light of ongoing human pressures on the environment. They vary in the degree of scientific certainty (see box, p.60), however, we believe that in order to prevent or minimize the negative impacts and to profit from the potential benefits of climate change, people and policymakers in the region can and should take action now.

    We outline here three basic strategies for protecting ecosystems and maintaining ecological goods and services in the face of a changing climate:

    mitigation, which involves reducing...

  11. Appendix: Developing Climate Scenarios
    (pp. 69-69)
  12. References
    (pp. 70-80)
  13. Steering Committee
    (pp. 80-80)
  14. Contributing Authors
    (pp. 81-83)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 84-84)