Introduction To Climate Change

Quite simply, when we use fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas, we pump more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and this build-up creates a blanket-like effect, trapping in heat around the earth. If nothing is done to halt this process, the planet we leave our children will be hotter, with more extreme weather, fewer species of plants and animals, and disrupted systems.

Impacts On Rhode Island

The impacts of climate change upon Rhode Island’s built and natural environments are wide-ranging, discernible and documented, and, in many cases growing in severity. Rhode Island will experience warmer air and water temperatures, more extreme weather events such as droughts, intense precipitation, severe storms and flooding, increasing rates of sea level rise, shorter winters and longer summers, and less snowfall and ice coverage. Climate change has the potential to pose significant risks for Rhode Island’s water, wastewater, surface transportation, and energy infrastructures and utilities, our natural environment, and our health, welfare, and economic well-being.

Resilient Rhody (2018)
Resilient Rhody, RI’s first climate resilience action strategy, responds to changing weather and environmental conditions in Rhode Island caused by climate change and proposes bold yet implementable actions to better prepare the state for these impacts. It includes a valuable overview of Rhode Island’s changing climate, including sea level rise, warming air and water temperatures, storm frequency/intensity, biodiversity and precipitation/flooding.

Watershed Counts (2017)
This report highlights three climate change impacts on the economy, ecology and coastal communities of Narragansett Bay: warming water temperatures, accelerating rates of sea level rise and intensifying tropical storms.

State of Narragansett Bay and Its Watershed Technical Report (2017)
Coordinated by the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, this report focuses on three climate change stressor indicators - temperature, precipitation, and sea level. These stressors are increasing rapidly. Air and water temperatures are warming, the intensity and seasonality of precipitation are changing, and sea level is rising. These stressors are already causing ecological responses in Narragansett Bay such as altering the estuarine fish community, with warm-water species increasing and cold-water species declining.

Observed Changes in Rhode Island- At a Glance:

  • Rhode Island’s precipitation rates are climbing an inch almost every 10 years. 2018 was the third wettest year on record for RI (measured at TF Green Airport). In 2018, Rhode Island saw a record number of days with over an inch of rain.
  • The long-term warming trend continued in 2019 with the Earth having its second warmest year on record. The remarkable global warmth of 2019 means the last 5 years rank as the top 5 hottest. This makes the 2010s the hottest decade on record.
  • The water in Narragansett Bay is getting warmer. The surface temperature of the Bay has increased 2.5-2.9°F (from 1960-2010). Wintertime water temperatures are warming the most rapidly.
  • Sea levels have risen more than 10 inches in RI since 1930 (at the Newport tide gauge). Sea level rise is accelerating both in Rhode Island and globally.

Projected Changes in Rhode Island- Highlights:

  • Under a higher emissions pathway, historically unprecedented warming is projected by the end of the 21st century. Increased intensity of heat waves is also projected, but a decreased intensity of cold waves.
  • Continued increases in frequency and intensity of extreme precipitation events are projected.
  • Sea level is projected to increase by at least 9 feet by 2100.