<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="0; url=https://r.sealevelrise.org/https://sealevelrise.org/states/rhode-island/"/> Rhode Island's Sea Level Rise - Sea Level Rise

Overview

Rhode Island’s Sea Level Has Risen 5” Since 1956

And Initial Solutions Will Cost Over $100 Million

The sea level off Rhode Island’s coast is 5 inches higher than it was in 1956.1 This increase is mostly due to Rhode Island’s sinking land, and it’s causing major issues.2 Solutions in Rhode Island can be complicated because the state has hundreds of miles of shoreline and salt marshes to protect from sea level rise.3 The state is planning over $100 million in sea level rise solutions, which include restoration projects, catastrophic flood prevention, and building seawalls.

Sea level rise is speeding up

Although the sea has only risen by 5 inches since 1956, its speed of rise has accelerated over the last ten years and it’s now rising by over an inch every 8 years.1 We know this because the sea level is measured every 6 minutes.4 Scientists use different equipment like satellites, floating buoys off the coast, and tidal gauges to accurately measure the local sea level as it accelerates and changes.

Created with Highcharts 6.2.0

SEA LEVEL MEASUREMENT FROM PROVIDENCE AREA TIDE GAUGE SINCE 1950

Causes & Complications

Why Are Sea Levels Rising?

While there are four causes of sea level rise in Rhode Island, ice melt6 and land sinkage are the largest contributors.6 Because the land is getting lower each year, due to a process called subsidence, Rhode Island is particularly vulnerable to an increased rate of sea level rise in the future. Click here to learn more about these causes.

Ice Melt
How Ice Melt Increases Sea Level Rise
How Land Sinkage Increases Sea Level Rise

Most flooding happens during the winter

The highest tides in Rhode Island occur during nor’easters, those wintertime storms that push more water to the coast, raising the high tide even higher. Combined with an increased gravitational pull from the moon, these tides are typically over a foot and a half higher than normal hightides.1 Add that to the 5 inches of sea level rise since 1956 and you end up with flooding even on sunny days.

Solutions aren’t simple

In Rhode Island the sea level is rising more rapidly than some coastal areas because as the ocean water is rising, the land is sinking. Solutions can be complicated because with 21 coastal communities located along the Atlantic Ocean,3 Rhode Island has many towns and cities to solve sea level rise and flooding issues for. In addition, the state must preserve and protect the wildlife that rely on coastal habitats.7

Forecast

What's the Future of Sea Level Rise?

Sea level rise in Rhode Island has increased, and is now rising by about 1 inch every 8 years. Around Providence, it took around 40 years for the sea level to rise around 6 inches.1 Scientists now forecast that in just the next 16 years, the sea will rise by another 6 inches.8

Scientists are not certain how fast the ocean will warm and ice will melt. They expect water levels to continue to rise faster, but are not sure just how fast. Therefore scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) have made predictions based on ranges from low to high.

Below you can see the range of the NOAA and USACE high and intermediate forecasts for various locations around Rhode Island.9 We are currently closest to the USACE high forecast, which is the darkest red line.

SLR speeding up - Rhode Island English
SLR speeding up - Rhode Island English
Newport
Created with Highcharts 6.2.0Newport Sea Level Rise Forecasts

Flooding

Why Are Floods More Frequent?

When the ocean rises high enough, high tides cause flooding even on sunny days. Even though the sea level has only risen by around 3 and a half inches, tidal flooding has increased by 300% in Rhode Island since 2000.10

Flooding
How sea level rise affects Rhode Island

Flooding even when there’s no rain

Drainage systems are designed to channel excess rainwater from the streets and drain it into the sea. But with the pressure from rising sea levels and higher tides, seawater can get pushed into these pipes and spill out into the streets. This causes flooding even on days without rain.

Drain A
Drainage Under Normal Tidal Conditions
Drainage With High Tide / Sea Level Rise

Increased storm surge flooding

Unfortunately, slightly higher sea levels make hurricanes even more damaging. Just a few more inches of sea level rise allow a hurricane to push more water onto the land, even if the hurricane itself doesn’t make landfall.

Sandy Rhode Island (RI)

Hurricane Sandy, 2012

Higher sea levels create a higher launching point for storm surge. These small changes in sea level rise are enough to turn what were 100-year storm surges into much more frequent events. In fact, in a third of 55 coastal sites studied throughout the US, 100-year storm surges will be 10-year or more frequent events by 2050.11

This means that in many coastal cities, if you bought a house with a 30-year mortgage today, by the time you paid off your mortgage you could be experiencing extreme 100-year storm surges ten times more frequently due to sea level rise alone. This does not include the added risk of more intense storms resulting from warmer water and a warmer atmosphere, which could further increase storm surge damage.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit Rhode Island, washing away large sections of Cliff Walk in Newport, and caused $11 million in damages to the state.12 Without sea level rise, Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge would have been lower.

Sandy Rhode Island (RI)

Hurricane Sandy, 2012

Costs

What's at Risk in Rhode Island?

There’s a lot at risk from sea level rise and flooding in Rhode Island, especially because the state has 384 miles of shoreline that is host to not only cities and towns, but home to many species of wildlife.13 As sea levels continue to rise, some species are losing their habitats and face declining numbers. In addition to the oceanfront beaches that face the threat of erosion from increased ocean water levels, Rhode Island’s salt marshes are experiencing creek widening, ponding, vegetation dieback, and drowning.14

Homes & Cars
Homes & Cars

Storm surges or flooding can damage the underside of your car or the first level of your home.

Beaches
Beaches

Rising seas increase the speed of beach erosion, pulling more sand from the beach into sea. Replacing the sand is possible, but expensive.

Coastal Wetlands
Coastal Wetlands

Sea level rise can disrupt coastal wetlands, which puts important ecosystems in danger, threatens habitats, and leaves communities exposed to dangerous storm surge.

Rhode Island is spending over $100 million on solutions

Some cities have sufficient resources to deal with this problem while others do not. Rhode Island will need solutions at the individual, local, state, and federal levels to protect its coastal communities.

Rhode Island
Rhode Island

The Government of Rhode Island has planned nearly $100 million in improvements for Quonset Port of Davisville Pier 2, for 50 more years ofresilience.15

N.B.E.P
N.B.E.P

The Narragansett Bay Estuary Program has over $115,000 in grants approved for research projects in the Narragansett Bay watershed.16

CRMC
CRMC

The Coastal Resources Management Council approved a $11 million Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan to minimize infrastructure losses from seal level rise and reduce overall impacts to coastal resources.17

What can you do?

Individuals, mayors, legislators, governors, and Congress can work together to build protections before flooding, to build back stronger after flooding, and to create plans that future-proof our communities. Click here to see what solutions can help protect your home or what your community can do.