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Navy's got new challenges with warming, experts say

The U.S. Navy should plan for climate impacts — from costly base repairs, to mobilizing for humanitarian aid and patrolling new Arctic shipping lanes — the National Research Council says.
Image: The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Henry Larsen is pictured in Allen Bay in Resolute
A Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker is pictured in the Canadian Arctic during maneuvers with the U.S. Coast Guard last year.CHRIS WATTIE / Reuters
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The U.S. Navy should plan for climate change impacts — from costly base repairs, to mobilizing for humanitarian aid and geopolitical conflicts in the Arctic — the National Research Council said in a report Thursday.

"Even the most moderate predicted trends in climate change will present new national security challenges," retired Adm. Frank Bowman, co-chair of the committee that wrote the report at the Navy's request, said in a statement.

"Naval forces need to monitor more closely and start preparing now for projected challenges climate change will present in the future," he added.

As rising temperatures continue to melt sea ice, Arctic sea lanes could be regularly open across the Arctic by 2030, the report noted. The region is already seeing ships testing the waters, as well as nations lining up to seek energy and mineral deposits.

Russia has been among the most aggressive in seeking energy riches, while Canada has beefed up its patrols.

"The geopolitical situation in the Arctic region has become complex and nuanced, despite the area being essentially ignored since the end of the Cold War," the experts wrote.

In order to protect U.S. interests, they added, "the Navy should begin Arctic training and the Marine Corps should also reestablish a cold-weather training program.

Rising sea levels and more extreme storm surges tied to warming could also become costly for the Navy.

A rise of three feet, the experts said, would place at risk 56 Navy installations worth $100 billion. The Navy should expect a rise by 2100 anywhere between a foot and six feet, they added.

The report also urged the Navy to increase its capacity for helping climate refugees via hospital ships.

"Naval forces must be prepared to provide more aid and disaster relief in the decades ahead," said panel co-chair Antonio Busalacchi, director of the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center at the University of Maryland.