The government has already considered the threat that climate change could pose to the military’s operations, but its latest report reveals “actual impacts” that could be indicative of what installations could face as a result of global warming.

Officials from the Government Accountability Office visited Department of Defense sites and noted examples where the effects of climate change could impact its “readiness” and leave the military vulnerable.

Coastal erosion near a DOD early warning site. (Image source: U.S. Air Force via GAO)

Coastal erosion near a DOD early warning site. (Image source: U.S. Air Force via GAO)

“For example, according to DOD officials, the combination of thawing permafrost, decreasing sea ice, and rising sea levels on the Alaskan coast has increased coastal erosion at several Air Force radar early warning and communication installations,” the GAO noted. “Impacts on DOD’s infrastructure from this erosion have included damaged roads, seawalls and runways. In addition, officials on a Navy installation told GAO that sea level rise and resulting storm surge are the two largest threats to their waterfront infrastructure. For instance, they are concerned about possible storm surge during work on a submarine that will be cut in half while sitting in a dry dock. Officials explained that if salt water floods the submarine’s systems, it could result in severe damage.”

Watch GAO’s report about flooding a Ft. Irwin in California, which damaged 160 facilities:

The GAO acknowledged in its video that any single weather event cannot necessarily be linked to climate change, but it said that these events can give “insight into the potential climate-related vulnerabilities.”

The report —Climate Change Adaptation: DOD Can Improve Infrastructure Planning and Processes to Better Account for Potential Impacts  — said that the DOD has already begun to assess the vulnerability of installations against the potential impact of climate change and what could be one to adapt to these effects. But the GAO wrote the defense department could face limitations in that some of its plans are not fully developed and such projects are rarely proposed as military construction projects.

Drought conditions contributed to wildfires that impacted a training range. (Image source: Alaska Fire Service via GAO)

Drought conditions contributed to wildfires that impacted a training range. (Image source: Alaska Fire Service via GAO)

“As a result, installation planners may believe that climate change adaptation projects are unlikely to successfully compete with other military construction projects for funding,” the GAO said on the report’s website. “Without clarification of these processes, DOD may face challenges in meeting its strategic goals and the services may miss opportunities to make their facilities more resilient to the potential impacts of climate change.”

As a result of its findings, the GAO recommended the DOD “develop a plan and milestones for completing climate change vulnerability assessments of installations; provide further information to installation planners, clarifying actions that should be taken to account for climate change in planning documents; and clarify the processes used to compare military construction projects for funding, to include consideration of potential climate change impacts.”

A before-after picture of a guard tower at an Army training area after a flash flooding event. (Image source: GAO)

A before-after picture of a guard tower at an Army training area after a flash flooding event. (Image source: GAO)

The Pentagon agreed with these recommendations.

“We are committed to maintaining the resilience of our installations in support of our mission, our warfighters and our communities,” John Conger, acting deputy undersecretary of Defense for Installations and Environment, wrote in a letter, according to U.S. News and World Report. “We will continue to integrate consideration of climate change and associated impacts across the Defense enterprise.”

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said in a statement that the GAO report “confirms what Alaskans already know.”

“The military is important to Alaska, and Alaska is important to the military,” Begich said. “We need to get in front of these changes to protect the taxpayer, keep costs low, and keep Alaska ready to support the larger mission.”

(H/T: io9)