Rhode Island Faces More than 7 Degree Increase Over Next 100 Years

Analysis by The Nature Conservancy shows climate change threatens Rhode Island’s tourism and maritime industries

PROVIDENCE, RI | August 27, 2009

Rhode Island could heat up by 7 degrees from climate change by the end of the century – threatening the state’s $5 billion tourism industry, increasing the risk of heat-related deaths, and threatening New England treasures such as lobster and sugar maples according to a new analysis announced today by The Nature Conservancy. F

rom the food we put on the table to the animals that make our state unique, this study shows that none of us is immune if temperatures continue to rise as projected. We can now see that climate change will directly hit us here in Rhode Island, in our own back yards,” said Janet Coit, director of The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island. “If we do not act immediately, our children and grandchildren will live in a very different world than we do today. The weather and landscapes that have made Rhode Island so special will be nearly unrecognizable in 100 years.”

Among the impacts Rhode Island would feel under the temperature increases projected by the Conservancy’s analysis are:

  • Lost revenue in tourism and fishing as strange weather impacts tourism decisions and warmer waters change local fisheries
  • Loss of sugar maples as our climate becomes more like South Carolina
  • Increase in heat-related deaths during heat waves

While the analysis found startling projections for temperature increases, climate change will lead to other local impacts as well, including sea-level rise and more intense storm events.

The Conservancy’s temperature analysis looked at three emission scenarios based on low, medium and high rates of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere over the next 100 years. Under the highest emission scenario, which assumes carbon dioxide levels will continue to grow, Rhode Island’s average annual temperature would spike by 7.5 degrees F.

Even under the lowest emission scenario, which assumes that the amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere each year will decrease, Rhode Island will heat up by 5 degrees F.

Scientists warn that a global temperature increase of the 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C) or more will lead to irreversible impacts to the Earth’s lands, waters, wildlife and human communities, and will generate even more greenhouse gasses from the melting of the arctic and fires in tropical regions.

“Narragansett Bay has already seen a 2-3 degree temperature increase over the last 50 years, which has caused major changes in the way that ecosystem works,” said Peter August, PhD, Professor of Natural Resources Science at the University of Rhode Island. “A 7 degree temperature increase will cause profound changes in our land, water, and marine ecosystems. I don’t know if Rhode Island’s ecosystems will look like North Carolina’s, but it will sure feel like it in the summer time.”

The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote on energy and climate legislation this fall.

Coit added that action can be taken on the ground now to combat the impacts of climate change and protect Rhode Island’s communities and natural resources.

The Nature Conservancy is taking steps to protect the great state of Rhode Island by:

  • Protecting and restoring coastline habitats
  • Acquiring watershed lands
  • Preserving large forest areas

To see projections on how monthly temperatures and precipitation may change for Rhode Island, visit www.climatewizard.org, a new web tool that, for the first time ever, allows people to use an interactive map to explore past and projected climate change data on their computers. With Climate Wizard, users can zoom in on Rhode Island to quickly see how temperatures and precipitation may change by month, season or year under different emission scenarios. The Climate Wizard was developed by The Nature Conservancy, the University of Washington and the University of Southern Mississippi.

For more information on The Nature Conservancy's work in Rhode Island go to www.nature.org/rhodeisland.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at unprecedented scale, and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 65 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.

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Kevin Essington

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