Climate Change

Flooded beach houses on the south shore of Rhode Island, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. Photo: Janet Freedman
Flooded beach houses on the south shore of Rhode Island, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. Photo: Janet Freedman

The effects of climate change now and in the future is the subject of several physical oceanography studies at GSO. By documenting temporal variations of ocean fronts (observed gradients in sea surface temperatures using satellite sensors) and the large-scale current velocities (Gulf Stream speed using current profilers), GSO scientists are able to observe any change in circulation due to warming seas. Modeling heat transport during increased or decreased incidence of northward trending tropical storms gives physical oceanographers insight into impacts on the northern ocean and atmospheric dynamics.

From oil spills to hurricanes, the Coastal Institute at GSO works closely with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to address long-term impacts of coastal hazards. Numerous GSO faculty, staff, and students are prepared to deploy in disasters to gather significant data in support of environmental assessment of habitat impact, coastal erosion and short- to long-term economic impacts.

Extensive in-situ observations are currently underway to link changing Arctic sea ice and ocean physico-chemical conditions with primary and secondary production, upper trophic level consumers, and ultimately local human communities to better understand how Arctic marine ecosystems function, and to predict through modeling how they will respond to climate change. Working with members of the community in Barrow, Alaska, local whalers, and local government representatives, the goal is to better understand how projected future changes in environmental conditions affect ecosystem response.

In RI coastal waters, evaluations of the dynamics of winter flounder, summer flounder, and blue crab by GSO fisheries biologists tease out the influence of natural variability from effects of the 2°C increase in temperature experienced in the region.

Among the recent seven research grants awarded by the Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council (STAC), five teams include GSO researchers. The projects are designed to evaluate the impacts of climate change on marine life, primarily in Narragansett Bay, given its important location at the junction of two biogeographic zones. Two projects rely on the highly valuable multi-decadal surveys of plankton, invertebrates, and fish in Narragansett Bay to provide basic data for demonstrating how the effects of warming waters are detectable in the bay and modeled using computer simulations designed for Rhode Island coastal waters. Another project on the phytoplankton response to nitrogen stress focuses on genomic and proteomic approaches. A multi-institutional team tests materials and sculptural forms for coastal habitat restoration and shore protection. The final project aims to improve communication of scientific information by merging expertise in arts and natural and social sciences.
Waves of Change is a climate change website offering science, facts, and figures in a user-friendly manner to guide Rhode Island residents (and people from other coastal states) toward an understanding of the changes taking place, impacts associated with climate change at the local level, and actions people can take to protect lives, property, and resources.

The Climate Change Educational Partnership Alliance based at GSO coordinates a network of six NSF-funded regional and national efforts to advance education on climate change. The alliance aims to develop a citizenry prepared for climate change; produce educational approaches to this end; and advance collaborative communities of scientists and teachers through research and partnerships.

Metcalf Institute’s Climate Change and the News Seminars bring the Institute’s nationally recognized training opportunities directly to journalists across America to improve and expand coverage of climate change.