Natural resource impacts in Rhode Island are thoroughly described in the Rhode Island’s Climate Challenge: Waves of Change: RIClimateChange.org
Climate change not only threatens Rhode Island’s economy, but the state’s natural resources and ecological features. Ocean acidification due to absorption of carbon dioxide by the ocean’s waters poses a substantial risk to the productivity and sustainability of Rhode Island habitats. In addition, increasing air and water temperatures, alterations to precipitation patterns, disruption to the hydrologic cycle, sea level rise, and coastal inundation all drive environmental risks across Rhode Island.
These drivers have a particularly strong impact on the individual health of plant, animal, and insect life. Impacts on habitat quality and ecosystem structure interact with each other and amplify the overall impact. Inundation in particular poses significant risk to the state’s natural environment since salinization can degrade brackish wetlands and alter the capacity of wetland vegetative communities as nursery habitats.
One of the main concerns with an increase in average temperatures is the changes to the relationship between climate and seasonal biological events. For instance, the migration of animals or the flowering of plants can be disrupted. This in turn will impact populations that have developed interactions with particular species. Moreover, tree populations like apple and maple trees can begin to shift north towards colder climates.
Another effect of warming temperatures is an increase in the number of non-native plant and insect species. As winter temperature increase, species like the Black-swallow Wort and the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid may expand in population and geographic range.
Rivers, lakes, and ponds will also be impacted by climate change. They may experience more intense and frequent droughts and floods. Flooding can potentially degrade water quality, lower dissolved oxygen concentration in the water, and aggravate eutrophication. Climate change might also increase the spread of disease in many coastal and marine species in the Narragansett Bay.
Additional information on Climate Change and natural resources can be found in the RI Climate Change Commission 2012 report.