Central Data Catalog

Citation Information

Type Book
Title Coastal zones and climate change
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2010
Publisher Henry L. Stimson Center
City Washington
Country/State DC
URL http://mercury.ethz.ch/serviceengine/Files/ISN/116077/ichaptersection_singledocument/d639af57-5aeb-4​30f-9080-bee72fadeeb7/en/4.pdf
The Indian Ocean region is highly diverse geomorphologically. It consists of littoral and island states and spans an area between the African, Asian, and Australian continents, reaching to the Antarctic landmass.1 The Indian Ocean forms the natural border to
the South Asian subcontinent (Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan) and encompasses many large islands, such as Java, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and Sumatra; many smaller island groups, such as the Comoros islands, the Maldives, and Seychelles; and numerous atolls and archipelagos. The littoral countries of this vast ocean also include the Persian Gulf states; the East African coast states from Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique to South Africa; and the Southeast Asian nations of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, East Timor, and Vietnam.

This paper provides a general account of the coastal zone ecology of the Indian Ocean region and the known and potential impacts of climate change on the region’s ecosystems. Ecosystems are complex entities consisting of living beings, the physical environment they inhabit, and the interactions within and between these two components.2 The three basic levels of biodiversity are genes, species, and ecosystems/communities/habitats. The goods and services that ecosystems provide, such as food, fuel, and materials, are essential for human survival. Oceans and their constituent ecosystems form essential elements of the chemical, biological, and physical processes of life on Earth. Climate, driven by the solar energy that warms the Earth and causes the circulation of the atmosphere and oceans, is defined according to meteorological parameters (e.g., air temperature, rainfall, and humidity); and exhibits natural variability. Climate is one of the two most important physical factors (the other being topography) determining the survival and nature of all living beings, from individuals and communities to populations and entire species, by heavily influencing the natural systems on which they depend.

Two things need to be kept in mind. First, the characteristics of ecosystems vary over time and space. Scale is an important variable in the definition and measurement of any ecological system. Except in a very few instances, organisms and the environmental factors that determine their survival are distributed as gradients that blend into one another at the edges of the space they occupy. Most coastal and marine ecosystems display important characteristics specific to the region; despite the common types of stresses exerted on coastal regions globally, the specific aspects of particular ecosystems should not be ignored, even as microclimates are exceptions to the effects of climate systems over very large scales. There is much we do not know about the interactions of ecosystems with their surroundings, especially in coastal and marine environments, and many indirect effects of global change on ecosystem functioning will likely reveal themselves as gradual impairments rather than as readily apparent losses of ecosystem integrity.

Second, ecology cannot deal only with nature. Humans are part of the ecology of any place on this planet. They and their constructed systems have to be included in any analysis of ecology. Thus the term social-ecological system is often applied in the analysis of human impacts on ecosystems. In this paper, only a few salient socioeconomic, cultural, and political factors relevant to coastal climate change can be highlighted.

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