Climate Change Threatens Britain's Coasts

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Climate change is warming Britain's waters, eroding its coastline, harming its marine wildlife and increasing the likelihood of devastating storms and floods, the government said in a report published Wednesday.

The "Marine Climate Change Impacts" report, drawn up by coalition of government bodies and researchers, said 2006 was the warmest year ever recorded for Britain's waters, and seven of the 10 warmest years have been in the last decade.

Milder sea temperatures have already adversely affected plankton — small water-going micro-organisms that form the foundation of the ocean's ecosystem.

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In the North Sea, the population of the previously dominant cold-water plankton species Calanus finmarchicus had declined by 70 percent since the 1960s, the report said.

Cold-water fish were also suffering, and that in turn was reducing the availability of prey for some of Britain's seabirds — such as black-legged kittiwakes — and harming the fish and fish farming industries, the report said.

The ocean around Britain was also becoming more violent and more acidic. Scientists have recorded increasing average wave heights in western and northern British waters, while models suggested that the chemical composition of British sea water had shifted, becoming more acidic as it absorbed increasing amounts of carbon dioxide.

The report also said erosion had taken increasingly deep bites out of the British coast, saying that the low water and high water marks were getting closer in nearly two thirds of the areas studied in England and Wales over the past 100 years. It predicted — albeit with low confidence — that the rate of erosion would increase as ocean levels rose.

Finally the report warned of the possibility of increased flood risk, both from rivers and the sea, saying the increasing trend in extreme water levels was most likely a consequence of the rise in average sea level, itself strongly linked to global warming.

Those behind the report said it should be read as a call to action. "Our winters are getting wetter and warmer, sea levels are rising and coastal erosion is increasing," Rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said. "These are happening now and we must take action."