Climate change could have major implications for the US Navy, a report from the National Research Council has warned.
The future is likely to hold disputes over national boundaries, a greater need for disaster assistance and the possible loss of naval coastal facilities to sea level rise.
"We were given a broad mandate to look at how climate change could affect naval forces," says committee member and Texas A&M University professor Mahlon Kennicutt.
"The US military needs to know what the world will look like twenty to thirty years from now if it is to make the preparations today to cope with tomorrow’s realities."
Kennicutt points out that if the polar icecaps in Greenland and Antarctica continue to melt, sea levels around the world will rise dramatically. The Northwest Passage could become seasonally ice-free, allowing ocean-going vessels to cross the Arctic Ocean.
"How this affects homeland security and what it means for terrorists or contraband smugglers that have ill will toward the US is largely unknown," he says.
Studies suggest that as much as 30 percent of the world’s remaining oil and gas reserves are above the Arctic Circle, and Kennicutt points out that conflict over new national boundaries in the Arctic has already strained US relations with Canada.
"How this will affect US national and homeland security is open to debate, but it is clear that an ice-free summer Arctic will dramatically change the politics and military strategies of the north for the foreseeable future," says Kennicutt.
The committee also looked at how droughts and other weather disasters could affect disaster relief activities.
"Especially dire are predicted impacts of famines and other natural disasters on Africa and the movement of refugees into Europe," says Kennicutt.
"Predictions suggest that over the next few decades droughts will be more severe, and so will storms such as hurricanes and typhoons, and this could put a severe strain on the military as it tries to respond to increasingly frequent natural disasters worldwide."