Are sea levels rising faster today than in the past? To answer this question, scientists in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island are using fossil records and sediment cores to reconstruct sea level since the last ice age (11,600 years ago) to compare to today’s records.
A warming climate causes seawater to expand and ice to melt, which can lead to a rise in sea level. Studies of past sea level changes indicate that coastal communities are likely to be dramatically reshaped.
Rates of sea-level rise obtained since the last ice age represent the basis for comparing historical and present day changes in sea level. Research in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island will produce a site-specific, high-resolution sea-level record for the late Holocene that will provide an essential benchmark against which we can measure the additional sea-level rise that has occurred over the past 100 years. This information could help coastal communities to better prepare for future effects of climate change.
To accomplish our goals, we will study the modern environment of Narragansett Bay to understand the relationship between the ecological and physical properties of the marsh. Collecting and analyzing fossil cores will allow us to study the distribution of foraminifera, marine indicator species, in the geologic record. We will use this information to create a model for past sea level and predict how it may change in the future.