NJDEP Study Predicts Dramatic Sea Level Rise Along Jersey Shore

Report Introduced at First Meeting of Interagency Council on Climate Change
By Juliet Kaszas-Hoch | Dec 18, 2019

New Jersey — A new study from the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection projects seas could rise from 2000 levels by up to 1.1 feet by 2030, 2.1 feet by 2050 and 6.3 feet by 2100 in New Jersey, emphasizing the urgency of adaptation work to make the state more resistant to climate change effects. The accompanying report shows New Jersey has already been disproportionately affected by climate change, with sea level rise projections more than two times the global average.

The Rising Seas and Changing Coastal Storms study, commissioned by the DEP and prepared by Rutgers University and leading climate change experts, was released last week during the first meeting of the newly formed Interagency Council on Climate Resilience. The council, comprised of representatives from 17 state agencies and chaired by the governor’s office, was formed via Gov. Phil Murphy’s recent Executive Order 89, which commits to developing and implementing a Statewide Climate Resilience Strategy. The council will serve to facilitate a whole-of-government response to the climate crisis.

“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 Murphy.

The state, said the DEP, “is particularly susceptible to the impacts of rising oceans due to its long coastline, the long-term natural sinking of land through subsidence, its latitudinal position in relation to the bulging of oceans caused by the earth’s rotation, ocean circulation patterns and other factors.”

As Murphy remarked, “The data presented in this report will not only guide the Interagency Council’s decisions, but will also advise future generations of leaders on how to best mitigate the devastating effects of climate change.”

The Murphy administration has made addressing climate change a priority for the state, which joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of states committed to the Paris Climate Treaty goals in the absence of federal leadership, precipitated by the Trump administration’s decision to remove the U.S. from the international Paris Agreement. New Jersey has also re-entered the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which works to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from the energy sector. In addition, the administration has launched various initiatives to make coastal and urban areas more resilient to flooding and sea level rise, and has been providing planning tools to assist local governments.

DEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe stated, “New Jersey has much to lose if we do not act quickly and decisively to adapt to the realities of climate change. 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. These projections now serve as important baselines for developing policy directions, including changes to land use regulation, that New Jersey must adopt to address these challenges.”

According to the report’s lead author, Robert Kopp, a climate scientist and director of the Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, “Sea level rise drives some of the greatest hazards New Jersey faces from climate change. Building upon three years of on-the-ground experience since the release of Rutgers’ first Science and Technical Advisory Panel sea level assessment, which was conducted for the New Jersey Climate Change Alliance, this report presents the state of the scientific understanding of sea level rise and changing coastal storms in a form designed to support state and local efforts to protect New Jersey's coastal communities.”

The Rising Seas and Changing Coastal Storm report stems from work begun in 2015 by Rutgers’ New Jersey Science and Technical Advisory Panel on Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Storms. This panel issued a report in 2016 to offer insights on science that can be used to guide state and local planning and decision making. The DEP subsequently commissioned Rutgers to further evaluate the most current data and scientific understanding of sea level rise in light of the importance of this issue to the state.

“Key updates,” said the DEP, “include the addition of historical sea level rise information for New Jersey, consideration of the latest information related to ice sheet melting and its impacts on sea level rise, and an assessment of increased tidal flooding caused by sea level rise. It also evaluates New Jersey’s specific susceptibility to the effects of sea level rise.”

The study team was comprised of leading experts and coastal researchers from the DEP, Rutgers, the U.S. Geological Survey, Columbia University, the Barnegat Bay Partnership, Rowan University, Princeton University, the Stevens Institute of Technology, Drexel University, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Jacques Cousteau Coastal Education Center, the New Jersey Association of Flood Plain Management, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Resiliency, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Funding was provided through NOAA.

A copy of the report, and a report summary, are available at nj.gov/dep/climatechange/resilience.html.

— Juliet Kaszas-Hoch


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