Climate change is being observed in many of our nation’s natural systems. Estuaries and other coastal systems are particularly vulnerable to many of the projected impacts of climate change. Regardless of future action to reduce emissions, the atmospheric buildup of greenhouse gases has committed the earth to some level of future climate change. Projected effects on estuaries include sea level rise, altered frequencies and intensities of precipitation, increased water temperatures, and more intense storm events. These effects will impact the health of our coastlines, including the people and species that inhabit them.
While not all of these changes will directly affect day-to-day management of estuarine systems, many of them will require some adjustment in management strategies and decision making. Managing for a changing climate is further complicated by ongoing population growth in coastal areas. As estuarine areas face an increasing risk from both the direct and indirect impacts of climate change and the consequences of human responses to climate change, managers will be faced with new and different challenges on top of existing system stressors.Management actions can ameliorate or exacerbate a system’s vulnerability to climate change. Actions taken to reduce impacts or exploit beneficial opportunities resulting from climate change are commonly referred to as climate change adaptation. Consideration of climate change impacts and appropriate adaptation options can help to ensure that managers’ actions reduce risk, improve resiliency, and ameliorate rather than exacerbate the vulnerability of their coastal ecosystems.This guide provides a brief introduction to key physical impacts of climate change on estuaries and a review of on-the-ground adaptation options available to coastal managers to reduce their systems’ vulnerability to climate change impacts. Reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases, referred to as “mitigation,” is a necessary component of the overall response to climate change, and can help avoid, reduce, or delay future impacts. However, this guide focuses on climate change adaptation for estuaries and coastal areas because: 1) estuaries are highly and uniquely vulnerable to climate change, 2) adaptation will be necessary to address impacts resulting from warming which is already unavoidable due to past and current emissions, and 3) adaptation can help reduce the long-term costs associated with climate change.1 For more information on how communities and individuals can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, please visit EPA’s Climate Change Website (http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/wycd/index.html).