Professor reviews sea levels before, after Hurricane Sandy


Superstorm Sandy flooded Kenneth Miller’s entire street and damaged the bottom of his house. Much of the property in his neighborhood, which was a few feet above ground level, was lost.

Miller, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, said that even though the amount of disaster and devastation from the storm was detrimental, the state was fortunate to have a low death toll.

His lecture, “Sandy comes to the Jersey Shore: Past, Present, and Future,” focused on Superstorm Sandy — which affected most of the East Coast last October — took place Wednesday at the Wright-Rieman Auditorium on Busch campus.

“This is a pretty upsetting presentation [that] … 8.8 million New Jersey residents were affected by Sandy,” Miller said. “But of course, we are Jersey strong.”

The origins of Sandy in the Atlantic City area gave it the set-up for a large storm surge, he said.

“Tide gauges tell the story of the surge, [which is] the sea level rising due to the high amounts of wind blowing it onto the shore and adding to the tide, creating astronomical tides of 5 feet,” he said.

The force of rain and wind combined destroyed many parts of those areas, he said, indicating that global warming cannot completely be blamed for Sandy, which has been referred to as a super storm.

“Sandy cannot be attributed to global warming but increasing storm intensity can. We are putting storms on steroids,” he said. “This is a very good analogy and a teachable moment for many people.”

He said there are instances where the change of sea level has been ignored because the level has undergone a gradual increase instead of a steep spike, which would gain more attention.

In the 21st century, the sea level has risen up to 1.8 millimeters per year with a slight acceleration over time, Miller said.

“It’s like telling a guy who’s buried in sand up to [his neck] that, ‘It’s only going to go up this much more,’” he said. “So there is such a threat. There is a point — sea level is rising today.”

Miller said the rise in storm intensity was connected with the melting of ice caps and sheets in locations such as Greenland and Antarctica, which made more ocean water available for storms. He also attributed it to increased global and tropical temperatures.

Marjorie Kaplan, associate director of the Climate and Environmental Change Initiative, said the public should not only pay attention to the intensity of the storms itself, but from where the intensity is coming from.

“We have to think about what we are doing, about the measures that can be put in place that are protective for our communities. There are still science questions that need to be answered,” she said.

Kaplan said everyone should be concerned about climate change because it affects the entire population.

“We all enjoy the shore, it’s a part of New Jersey’s personality and psyche,” she said. “If you are a resident of New Jersey, this is something that is pertinent to you.”

Beverly Chi, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said Miller’s lecture covered a wide range of topics that could be of interest to students.

“I think it’s important for all fields to learn,” Chi said. “There’s so much that goes into it. There is oceanography, geology and politics that he covered in this lecture alone.”

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