NSF Science & Engineering Messengers

Archive for July 2012

In Hot Water: How Global Warming Threatens Rhode Island’s Iconic Narragansett Bay

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Global warming = sicker oysters?
[Image credit: Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council]

If you live in Rhode Island, you don’t need to be told how vital Narragansett Bay is to our state. It drives the seafood and tourism industries; 2 million people live in its watershed. Any change to the Bay literally sends ripples throughout Rhode Island.

One such change is now afoot: It is called global warming, and its signature is unmistakable. Data kept by the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography show that since the 1960s, the average water temperature in the Bay has increased by 3.9 degrees Fahrenheit. Already, that has been enough to trigger measurable changes to marine life. To give just one example, there has been a clear shift from cold water to warm water fish species in the Bay: Winter flounder have declined by 90 percent since 1980. They’re being replaced by smaller fish, more accustomed to warmer waters—but not nearly so favored by the seafood industry. The economic cost of the decline of winter flounder now amounts to about $ 2 million per year.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about how global warming is changing the Bay, however, which is where the work of the Rhode Island Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) comes in. With funding from the National Science Foundation and cost sharing from the state, Rhode Island EPSCoR is tackling the problem of how global warming will change marine life, focusing on three key questions—how marine organisms will adapt to a changing environment, how climate change will impact food webs, and what kinds of potentially dangerous changes to marine pathogens and parasites we’ll see.

Take phytoplankton, for instance—tiny algae that play a critical role in the food web, converting sunlight into energy and blooming in winter-spring as they cycle nutrients and carbon through the oceans. Read the rest of this entry »


Written by nsfmessengers

July 18, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized