March 22, 2019 | 48° F

Report projects significant rise in sea-level along Northeastern coast

Photo by Flickr and Senior Airman Jesse Lopez |
Ten feet of water flood nearly 20 percent of the neighborhood throughout the city of Minot, N.D., leaving more than 4,000 homes inundated by flooding, June 25. With the Souris River expected to crest, city official scramble to implement a recovery strategy hoping to endure the high water preventing the loss of thousands of homes already damaged by flooding. At eight feet above major flood stage, the water appears to be leveling off.

According to a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report, sea levels off the Northeastern coast of the United States could rise significantly by the year 2100.

The report’s objective was to update scenarios of global-mean sea level rise (GMSLR), take into account how potential GMSLR increases could impact regions along the U.S. coast and incorporate relevant information into regional and national risk management agencies, according to the report.

Sea level rise will vary from one U.S. coastal zone to another, said Robert Kopp, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and co-author of the report.

“There are particular parts of the country that are virtually guaranteed to see a much greater increase in sea level,” he said. “We are almost certain this will occur here in the Northeast.”

Projections in the rise of sea level for the year 2100 range anywhere from less than 1 foot to over 3 feet for certain Northeastern coasts, according to the report.

Kopp said melting Antarctic ice sheets and land subsidence are two main factors that could contribute to the potential rise in sea level. 

The report’s projections for global sea level rise were wide ranging, he said. 

“We have scenarios that estimate anywhere from 1 to 8 feet of global sea level rise by 2100,” Kopp said.

Increases in sea level that might appear insignificant can have profound ramifications, said Jennifer Francis, a professor in the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences.

“If Hurricane Sandy happened 50 years ago when the sea level along the Jersey Shore was about 8 inches lower, the damage done would have been approximately $2 billion less,” she said. “Storms are now riding on top of a higher ocean, which results in more damage.”

About 40 percent of the United States population lives in relatively high-population-density coastal areas where sea level plays a role in flooding, shoreline erosion and other storm-related hazards, according to the NOAA website.

An increasing number of coastal cities are dealing with problems that stem directly from rising sea levels, Francis said. 

“Many areas are experiencing an increase in flooding due to higher tides,” she said. “Any kind of infrastructure along the shore in low-lying areas is vulnerable to the infiltration of seawater.”

Options for dealing with sea level rise and increases in global temperature are limited, Francis said.

“Realistically, we cannot stop what’s happening,” she said. “But we can slow it down.”

This starts with drastically reducing human emissions and getting off of the “business as usual” track of burning fossil fuels, Francis said.

People should take an interest in sea level rise, global warming and other environmental phenomena because their impacts can be detrimental, she said.

“Tax dollars that could be put toward education, innovation, healthcare and more are being spent on damages from environmental disturbances, like flooding," Francis said. “There are even studies about how conflict in the Middle East is potentially somewhat due to a severe drought related to climate change.”

The aforementioned are only a few of the negative impacts of global sea level rise, she said. There are numerous reasons why people should care.

Kenneth Able, a distinguished professor in the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences and Rutgers' Marine Field Station director, said infrastructure does not have to be directly on the coastline in order to be affected by rising sea levels.

“Over the past 30 years, the marshes that surround the Marine Field Station have been flooding more frequently,” Able said. “I think this is due to sea level rise.”

Infrastructure is not the only thing harmed by sea level rise, Able said.

“Estuaries are being affected as well,” he said. “This has significant consequences because there are several species of fish and crab that grow up and develop in these environments.”

The University’s Marine Field Station has been measuring the supply of fish larvae to the Mullica River-Great Bay estuary once a week for 28 years, Able said. These measurements have been changing.

Southern fauna, which were previously unable to survive in northern environments, are becoming more prevalent while northern fauna are moving elsewhere, he said. 

“These alterations are probably mostly because of changes in temperature,” Able said. “But temperature and sea level rise are obviously very related to one another.”

Nicholas Simon is a School of Arts and Sciences junior. He is a staff writer for The Daily Targum.

Nicholas Simon

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