RI Climate Change Experts Say Local Sea Level Continues to Rise

The URI Climate Change Collaborative says evidence is overwhelming that the climate is changing.

Although you don’t hear many complaints about this year’s warm winter, local experts say the shifts in the climate should not be underestimated.

According to the University of Rhode Island Climate Change Collaborative, the world is getting warmer, the oceans are getting warmer and more acidic, storms are getting more intense and sea levels are rising at an accelerated rate.  

According to the study funded by the Rhode Island Sea Grant, the sea level in Newport has increased eight inches since 1930. By 2100, the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council said to expect three to five feet of sea level rise. This could mean loss of waterfront property and public access, said the university.

Rian Wilkinson, president of the Middletown Beach Commission, said people might be swimming by the middle of May this year, a full month earlier than previous years..

“It’s strange, the water never cooled this year,” he said.   

The study said that water temperature has increased an average of 3.6 degrees since the 1960s in Narragansett Bay. This can mean a decline of some fish species while southern species increase, harmful algal blooms and other invasive species.

Jellyfish, for example, are becoming more abundant in Narragansett Bay, said the group.

Warmer waters can also increase harmful algal blooms, invasive species and marine diseases. More rainfall and runoff may increase pollution flowing into the sea, which can lead to beach and shellfish closures.  

Kevin Nelson, Supervising Planner for the Comprehensive Planning Team, is helping local governments include adaptation wording in their comprehensive plans. Mandated by the Comprehensive Planning Act, 45-22.2-6 – Required Content of a Comprehensive Plan) now states, "The plan must include an identification of areas that could be vulnerable to the effects of sea-level rise, flooding, coastal storm damage, or other natural hazards as identified in the plan."

Nelson said that although the mandate will not be enforced until 2016, towns should incorporate the language when they go through their normal revision schedule, since the state approves plans every ten years.  

Although a few remain skeptical of the realities of climate change, Nelson said there is consensus among the scientific community that climate change is real and accelerating.

He said that while some may argue how quickly the climate is changing or what is causing the shifts, scientists do not disagree that it is a reality.  

“There is pretty much no debate,” he said.

Ways to mitigate the impacts to our community:

  • Grow variety of native plants to promote healthy habitats
  • Maintain wider setbacks when building near the shore
  • Maintain chemical-free landscapes to reduce nutrient runoff
  • Support locally grown foods and community-supported agriculture

Tips to protect your home:

  • Protect from flood waters by elevating utilities and using a portable pump
  • Regrade landscapes and keep gutters clean to prevent flooding
  • Evaluate need for flood insurance
  • Consider natural ventilation, light-colored walls and small shuttered windows to keep buildings cool


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