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Warming Air & Water Temperatures

The atmosphere’s ability to trap heat is the reason Earth is habitable. By cloaking the Earth, greenhouse gases prevent the release of longwave radiation (sensible as heat) and allow for stable temperatures. However, the human injection of greenhouse gases, most notably carbon dioxide, has turned this benefit into a detriment. By increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases, air temperatures, especially nighttime lows, are elevating.

Humans will decide how high temperatures rise. The Paris Agreement sought to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius, compared to preindustrial levels. Due to the high urbanization of Rhode Island, the state may be particularly sensitive to rising temperatures. The Urban Heat Island Effect, a result of non-reflective surfaces like asphalt trapping heat, will increase the frequency of heatwaves--a known public health risk. Potential damage to roads and rails, water and waste-water systems, grid infrastructure, and power plants increases with higher temperatures.   

Warming water temperatures have been observed in Narragansett Bay. As temperatures rise, changes in productivity and ecosystem dynamics are expected, which may damage phytoplankton populations, reduce the abundance of seafloor organisms, and affect other linkages throughout the ecosystem. Fishery stocks are seeing increases in southern, warm-water fishes. Ocean acidification, caused by the dissolution of carbon dioxide into the oceans, is known to damage the exoskeletons of shellfish and other hard-bodied organisms.

Rhode Island’s average temperatures are rising both in winter and summer. Increasing temperatures threaten human health and are shifting or eliminating species ranges and threatening biodiversity. Since the relatively cold winters in the 1960s, the annual mean winter water temperature of Narragansett Bay has increased by 2 ° C (2.9 - 3.6 degrees fahrenheit) and the annual water temperature has increased by 1° C. Air temperatures have risen 3 degrees fahrenheit.