BARRINGTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Water was expanding across the parking lot at Walker Farm in Barrington Tuesday morning. Water from Hundred Acre Cove was approaching the shoulder on the Wampanoag Trail and parts of Mathewson Road had some minor flooding. All this was due to a “king tide.”
“We have the supermoon right now, the tides are higher than normal,” said Janet Freedman, a coastal geologist with the Coastal Resources Management Council.
The moon was at its closest to Earth this entire year on Monday morning at 3:43 a.m. The moon was a mere 222,137 miles from the Earth, at a point in its orbit called a perigee. The tug of gravity from the moon affects our tides.
According to Freedman, the tides Tuesday morning were 1.5 to 2 feet higher than they normally would be. The water had a little help from a southeast wind, which pushed the water into Southern New England. Freedman also told Eyewitness News that the tides were actually a little higher last month.
She along with citizen scientists around the region documented the astronomically high tide using the MyCoast app. People can take a picture of king tide or storm flooding and submit it to the app for scientists to track. Freedman drove through low-lying areas in the East Bay.
“The thing we’re doing now is looking at what we’re going to see in the future with sea level rise,” said Freedman.
Sea level rise, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is due to the thermal expansion caused by a warming ocean and increased melting of land-based ice such as glaciers and ice sheets.
Scientists have measured sea level rise in Rhode Island since 1930. According to Pam Rubinoff of the Coastal Resources Center at the University of Rhode Island, the height of the ocean has risen 9 inches in Rhode Island since 1930, but since the 1990’s, we’ve seen around 3 of those inches. The rate of sea level rise is accelerating.
Freedman said that in the not too distant future, the water levels we had today will be here every day.
“Then when the extreme high tides come, there will be much more severe flooding,” she said.
Some of the flooding today was caused by water coming up through culverts where water would normally drain into the Bay. If there was heavy rain with this tide, there would have been more flooding because storm drains would have been overwhelmed.
If a powerful storm hit on this tide, coastal flooding and even beach erosion would be more extensive.
Within the MyCoast app, when people submit a picture, an exact location and weather conditions are attached to the photo. Researchers can use this information to analyze different areas and how that level of flooding impacts the landscape, according to Freedman.
Downloading the app is free, and it becomes powerful when more people use it.
The flooding with a high tide is usually short-lived, but with more people using the app, more areas can be covered in that short period of time around a high tide.
Armed with more ocean and atmospheric data, researchers can study the effects of sea level rise here in Rhode Island. The data obtained on the MyCoast app is used in computer models by scientists to see how rising seas is impacting the state. Freedman says, unfortunately, every time a new computer model projection is made, the impacts are getting worse. At this point, it’s more about adapting to rising seas.
According to NOAA, almost 40 percent of the United States’ population live coastal areas where sea level plays a role in flooding, erosion and hazards from storms.
Sea level rise threatens critical infrastructure. Flooded roads due to king tide and storm flooding can cut off access to some neighborhoods. Some evacuation routes could be flooded. Water supplies, oil and gas storage tanks, sewage treatment plants and power plants could all be impacted by rising sea levels.
While scientists believe it is too late to do anything about rising seas in the short term, adapting is important. Research collected by citizen scientists can be used to identify where infrastructure improvements may be needed.
According to NOAA, Narragansett Bay is rising at a rate of 2.73mm/year, and long-term estimates indicate that by 2100, the sea level could rise by 7-10 feet.