September 20, 2018 | ° F

Professors discuss NJ flood levels

Photo by Edwin Gano |

Bill Schultz, Raritan riverkeeper, spoke about the available launch locations for paddle craft and identified problems with river access during yesterday’s Sustainable Raritan River Mini-Conference in Hillsborough Township, N.J.

HILLSBOROUGH, N.J. — Anthony Broccoli, co-director of the Rutgers Climate Institute, predicts future summers to be 70 percent warmer than the warmest summers on record. By the end of the century, this figure could rise to 90 percent.

Broccoli was one of the three Rutgers faculty members who spoke about climate resiliency at the Sustainable Raritan River Mini-Conference yesterday at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, N.J.

The Sustainable Raritan River Collaborative began in 2009 with the goal of restoration and future protection of the Raritan River, along with all of its tributaries. The collaborative is for the benefit of residents, businesses and the environment. Various programs and schools at the University are academic partners with the organization.

Broccoli gave a presentation on climate projections and New Jersey’s changing climate.

Along with rising temperatures, he said an increase in precipitation has made the last decade unusually wet.

A change in the amount of precipitation has resulted from very heavy events, he said. The northeast has seen a 74 percent increase in precipitation. 

“There have been concentrated periods of heavy rainfall occurring more frequently,” Broccoli said.

The two largest events, Hurricanes Irene and Floyd, were some of the first instances revealing a frequent pattern of excessive rainfall, he said. By the end of the century, heavy rain events are expected to become more frequent.

Broccoli said floods are becoming a bigger problem because all the water from rainfall flows into the rivers faster due to changesin land use. 

This also impacts the rise in sea level, he said. The sea level along the N.J. coast has been rising more rapidly than the global average due to a combination of postglacial movement of the earth’s crust and the compaction of sediments on the coastal plain. 

He said geoscientists at Rutgers and Tufts University project the New Jersey sea level to rise by 1.5 feet between 2000 and 2050. By the year 2100, it could rise about 3.5 feet.

“During the 21st century, the rate at which water is going up has been accelerating, and will be going up as our land is going down,” Broccoli said. 

Richard Lathrop, director of the Grant F. Walton Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis, gave a presentation about the various web-based tools available for assessing risk and planning for resiliency.

Lathrop said to prepare for climate change and make good decisions under severe circumstances. People must be aware of what areas are vulnerable. 

Light Detection and Ranging technology, or LiDAR, provides people with detailed information that maps land surfaces, he said. LiDAR can reveal what areas are most vulnerable to flooding. 

New Jersey has been collecting LiDAR data from various counties and areas over time, he said, including information from the Raritan Basin. 

Lathrop said another tool that has been created is the N.J. Flood Mapper project, which is a web-based geospatial decision-making tool that can be developed and implemented to promote coastal resilience in the face of sea level rises and storms.

“The idea is to try and provide different ways for people to realize and understand what the risk is,” Lathrop said.

Another issue is coastal salt marshes, he said. Marshes build up vertically through accretion, but many are retreating due to development impediments. These impediments can be roads, dykes or anything blocking the marshes from migrating.

Lathrop said the next steps to help society become more conscious about climate change are to identify and map hazard zones, which are most prone to floods, and identify hazard conflict areas where urban land uses are at risk. 

Jeanne Herb, associate director of the Environmental Analysis and Communications Group at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy gave the final presentation on the New Jersey Climate Adaption Alliance’s efforts to improve climate resiliency in the community.

The alliance is a network of policymakers, such as public and private sectors, practitioners, academics, NGOs and business leaders who want to build climate change preparedness and capacity in New Jersey. 

Herb said the alliance’s main goal is to use scientific research to help the community and encourage society to adapt policies and practices that improve climate resiliency. It also aims to encourage people to accept that the climate is changing and society must do something about it.

“We’re taking the kinds of organization that are in New Jersey already to work together to enhance the capacity in those existing,” she said. “We can agree that there’s a need to make sure that our assets and our people and our landscapes are protected.”

The alliance was created long before Hurricane Sandy, and Herb said it focuses on all aspects of climate change. 

The concept of the alliance is a diversity of voices sitting at a table that recognize they all have one thing in common: the impact of climate change, she said. 

“Many of you are thinking of Sandy,” Herb said. “But part of our mission is to try and direct attention to other effects of climate change, and their impact on people, infrastructure and assets.”

Vulnerabilities from climate change impact public health, heat-related illnesses, infectious diseases, air quality, and storm-related injuries and stresses, she said. The possibility of a longer and potentially more intense allergy season is another concern. 

Herb said many multinational companies have started to realize they need to be aware of climate change when it affects their supply chain by climate change and agriculture. 

“PepsiCo, which has a potato chip company, has realized that they really need to pay attention to climate change because the heat and changes in the climate are affecting their potato farms,” she said.

New Jersey’s vulnerabilities are not only limited to places, but also affect people, Herb said. The elderly, children and mental health patients are among those venerable to climate change. 

Herb said she was both surprised and excited to see that the results of a survey conducted in January showed that 70 percent of people have a concern about the impact of global climate change in New Jersey.

“Sandy has brought a lot of people to the table that weren’t at the table before,” she said.

By Danielle Gonzalez

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