Making Sure Sea-Level Rise Doesn’t Swamp New Jersey

Accurate plans and projections, including the effect of climate-changing pollution, can help the state do better dealing with coming sea-level rise

sea-level rise
By 2050, it is likely that coastal areas of the state will experience sea-level rise between 1 and 1.8 feet, increasing the impact of coastal storms, according to projections in two reports prepared by Rutgers University for the New Jersey Climate Adaption Alliance.

The projections, consistent with assessments made by New York and federal governments, are designed to provide guidance for planning and decision-making for coastal communities, where there is no uniform approach to dealing with climate change.

To help inform those decisions, the reports backed previous scientific reports that concluded while the global frequency of hurricanes is not likely to rise, the maximum wind speeds and precipitation intensity of those events are likely to increase.

“But it is of utmost importance to keep in mind that sea-level rise will exacerbate storm impacts even if there is little or no systematic change in the frequency, intensity, and tracks of storms,’’ the report said.

The alliance is a network of policymakers, public officials, business leaders, and academics engaged in an extensive stakeholder process to come up with a consensus on climate science to help make the state more resilient to sea-level rise and coastal storms.

One of the reports identifies a range of projected sea-level rise estimates for New Jersey, along with the likelihood of those estimates occurring. Between 2010 and 2030, the rate of sea-level rise in coastal parts of the state is likely to be 2-4 inches per decade. By 2030, there is a 50 percent probability that sea-level rise will meet or exceed 0.8 feet and a 17 percent probability of a rise of 1 foot or more.

After 2050, the scientific and technical panel convened by the alliance concluded that changes in sea-level rise would depend on future greenhouse gas emissions and how successful the state, nation, and world are in limiting climate-changing pollution.

In 2100, the likely (67 percent probability) range of sea-level rise is between 1.7 and 3.1 feet. under a low-emissions scenario, but would jump to 2.4 to 4.5 feet under a high-emissions outcome, according to the projections. There is a 1 in a 1,000 chance of a 10-foot rise in sea level, the report said.

Noting the dynamic nature of scientific knowledge of climate change, the panel advised that extra consideration be given to high-end outcomes when assessing highly vulnerable or highly consequential people, places, and assets.

Coastal professionals and decision-makers told Rutgers staff of inconsistent and sometimes conflicting guidance from multiple state and federal agencies on standards and regulatory practices meant to be implemented on the local level.

Unlike other states, New Jersey’s regulatory programs have not been developed to address climate change, according to the report. Instead, the state typically addresses impacts from climate change as a condition of federally funded projects. Environmental groups have frequently criticized the state for failing to incorporate climate change into its policies and regulatory programs.

In addition, coastal officials expressed concern that, with a post-Sandy emphasis on home elevations, residents who have elevated their homes will avoid evacuation not realizing that roadways, infrastructure, and critical facilities remain exposed and nonresilient.