By Michael Sol Warren | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
New Jersey is projected to experience “dramatic” sea level rise through the rest of this century, bringing worsening storm surges and more regular flooding to the Garden State, according to a new report released by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on Thursday.
That means that sea levels in the Garden State are expected to be up to 6.3 feet higher by 2100 than they were in 2000, up to 1.1 feet higher by 2030 and up to 2.1 feet higher by 2050.
“New Jersey is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and we must work together to be more resilient against a rising sea and future storms,” said Governor Phil Murphy.
The DEP said that the new report, titled “New Jersey’s Rising Seas and Changing Coastal Storms,” gives important baselines that will guide state efforts to adapt and become more resilient as climate change drives sea levels higher.
The report was released during the first meeting of the state’s newly formed Interagency Council on Climate Resilience — a group made up of 17 state agencies and chaired by the Governor’s office that was formed by an executive order from Murphy.
“New Jersey has much to lose if we do not act quickly and decisively to adapt to the realities of climate change,” DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe said. “This study illustrates the sobering reality that our coastal landscape will change drastically, and we must act with urgency to ensure the long-term viability of our coastal and waterfront communities.
The report is an update on information published by Rutgers University in 2016. Bob Kopp, the director of the Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and the lead author of the new report, said that the new work updates high-end sea level rise projections based on recently published research. The panel that created the new report also added “moderate” emissions scenario to better help local officials plan for the future.
“We were happy to update our previous report, because it’s important that DEP begin from an up-to-date snapshot of the science as they move forward with efforts to advance coastal resilience in New Jersey,” Kopp said.
There is a high degree of confidence in the projection between now and 2050, because the models change little regardless of how much greenhouse gas is emitted into the atmosphere in that span.
In the latter half of the century, however, the amount of global emissions does cause the projections to vary. The projection of up to 6.3 feet of sea level rise by 2100 is based on a high-emissions model.
Under a moderate emissions scenario, which the DEP says is likely if current objectives around the world are met, New Jersey seas are expected to rise up to 5.1 feet by 2100.
If the targets set by the 2015 Paris agreement are met, which would be a low emissions scenario, the DEP expects Jersey waters to rise up to 3.9 feet by the end of the century.
The new report also touched on how climate change is expected to change future tropical storms and nor’easters that impact New Jersey.
The frequency of those storms is not expected to change, according to the report, but it is likely that more damaging winds and heavier precipitation can be expected from future natural disasters. It is also possible that as global warming intensifies, tropical storms will be more likely to come farther up the Atlantic Coast.
Sea level rise give storms the potential to create more destructive storm surges and flooding, because the baseline level of water is already higher.
A recent report from the federal government found that dozens of of toxic sites around New Jersey are already at risk of being damaged by flooding, which could cause the pollution to be spread into surrounding areas. Sea level rise and stronger storms make this threat worse.
Effects so far
New Jersey is already feeling the effects of sea level rise. According to the report, seas rose along the Jersey Shore 1.5 feet between 1911 and 2019.
The Garden State has experienced sea level rise at a rate more than two times the global average, according to the report. That’s largely because South Jersey is slowly sinking as water levels go up.
The new report also found that regular tidal flooding — also called sunny-day flooding or nuisance flooding — has become more frequent in places like Atlantic City. Between 2007 and 2016, the city experienced an average of eight high-tide flooding events annually; that’s up from an average of less than one per year in the 1950s.
It’s a threat that will continue to grow. The report projects that Atlantic City will experience up to 75 days of expected high-tide flooding per year in 2030, and up to 255 days per year in 2050.
Climate change has already brought more destructive storms to New Jersey. A recent report found that hurricane-related winds and floods have caused up to $1.3 billion more in destruction in the state today than they would have if the climate of the 1980s had remained constant.
Some highways along the Jersey Shore are already having to be raised to deal with regular flooding. As sea levels rise, more existing roadways will be put at risk.
Higher seas are also making tidal waterways saltier, killing off stands of Atlantic White Cedar forests in South Jersey and leaving “ghost forests” in their place.
Michael Sol Warren may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MSolDub. Find NJ.com on Facebook.