Thursday, June 9, 2011

Its Getting Hot and the Ocean is Rising

Rutgers University recently held a conference to inform people on climate change and predicted sea level rise for the 21ist century on the global scale and for the New Jersey shore.  The presentations and news stories covering the event are now posted here.  Sean, our Coastal Policy attorney, spoke on the policy panel.  Many local high schools students were there.

A lot of the discussion was familiar - both global temperatures and sea levels are rising.  Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses that absorb heat are making the earth warmer.  Global temperature increased by 1-1.5° F over the last century and is predicted to rise even more over the next 100 years. 

Temperature changes can alter the climate by shifting weather patterns (rainfall, number of storms, heat waves, etc.) and other processes.  Some areas will get hotter, other areas on the planet will be potentially cooler and rainier, and these changes can vary greatly from one year to the next.  These changes will impact food crops and production, human health (heat waves, spread of disease), the health of forests, wildlife, and marine life, air and water quality, and coastal communities.  For example in New York City, the number of heat waves will increase – the high heat days will be even greater if we continue to have high greenhouse gas emission - impacting people’s health, especially the elderly.

Increased temperatures will cause melting of glaciers and polar ice caps as well the expansion of seawater which contributes to rising sea levels.  Sea level has been rising globally.  The amount of rise that happens each year has increased recently.  Global sea levels are projected to rise by 2.4 feet by 2100.

In New Jersey, some low lying coastal areas experience regular flooding already and much of the coast will be even more vulnerable in the future due to rising seas.  In addition to the global sea level rise, our coast is slowly sinking as well both regionally and locally – which explains why the sea level is predicted to be higher along our coast.  Sea level is predicted to rise by about 1 foot by 2050 and by 3 feet by 2100 in New Jersey.  This will intensify beach erosion, marshland loss, and coastal flooding during high tides and storms.

We need to be prepared for these predicted changes going forward and use this knowledge to inform our state’s and coastal town’s policies and regulations and the public.  Although progress is beginning, more efforts are clearly necessary.

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