Oceanography and Climate Change

Climate change is causing the oceans to warm and sea levels to rise throughout the planet, putting coastal communities and aquatic ecosystems at risk. B.C. is no exception. Waters off our coast show a long-term warming trend, with temperatures increasing by approximately 0.1 degrees Celsius per decade since 1981. While the potential effects of warmer temperatures may impact everything from abundance of phytoplankton and other primary food sources to the migration patterns of fish, mammals and birds, the ultimate impact of a warming ocean on aquatic ecosystems is difficult to predict.

One factor arising from warmer ocean temperatures, however, appears to be an increasing rate of rise in sea level. Updated climate models suggest the Antarctic and Greenland ice shelves are melting from the bottom, due to warmer ocean waters, as well as the top. This increase in the melt rate could mean sea levels will rise much faster, and to a greater extent, than originally projected. Sea level rise along Canada’s west coast may not be as dramatic as that predicted for the United States, but the new science underscores a need for updated guidelines and adaptation plans to protect B.C.’s coastal communities, people and infrastructure from rising waters and stronger storms as a result of climate change.


Ocean Watch Rating Legend

Ratings are meant to provide the reader with a visual snapshot summary about the subject.  Subject ratings were assigned by the Coastal Ocean Research Institute based on application of the criteria to the information in each article.

1) The status is healthy according to available data, 2) the trend is positive if known, 3) some data are available, and/or 4) actions to address or mitigate are well underway and are known to be effective. Actions should be taken to maintain positive status and/or trend.

Status, trend, data, and/or actions provide contradictory or inconclusive information. Actions are needed to move into positive status and trend and avoid negative status and trend.

1) Impacts or issues are high risk or have resulted in a low or vulnerable status, 2) improvements are uncertain, minor, or slow, and/or 3) actions to address or mitigate are non-existent, vague, or have low effectiveness. Actions are needed to move into positive status and trend.

Not rated due to the nature of the article, or there are not enough data to produce an assessment.

Snapshot Assessment

Oceanography and Climate Change

Ocean Warming


The world’s oceans are warming, including those in B.C. where surface temperatures in recent years have been consistently warmer than the 30-year baseline. More observation and study is needed to track ocean warming and understand its effect on aquatic ecosystems and human settlements.

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Sea Level Rise

New science suggests sea levels may be rising faster, and by a greater amount, than initially predicted, rendering many planning guidelines and adaptation tools in B.C. insufficient. Updates to community plans and policies are needed throughout the coast to protect infrastructure, homes and livelihoods along the coast from the threat of rising waters.

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