By Michele S. Byers
Does New Jersey seem rainier than usual? Are the winters milder? How about high tide flooding at the shore?
It’s not your imagination. According to a new report by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, increased rainfall, warmer temperatures and more coastal flooding are all happening right now due to a changing climate.
The Scientific Report on Climate Change is the state’s comprehensive effort to gather the latest and most reliable information on the current and anticipated impacts of climate change.
“Many of the impacts of climate change are already familiar to New Jerseyans, including increasing temperatures, rising sea levels and more frequent and intense storms,” Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe said.
“As our climate continues to change, it is urgent that New Jerseyans understand what future impacts are likely to occur, and when,” she said.
Here are some key findings:
• New Jersey’s average temperature is already 3.5 degrees higher than the first records from 1895. Continued warming at historically unprecedented levels is projected, with the state’s average annual temperature expected to rise another 4.1 to 5.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050.
• Annual rainfall in New Jersey is expected to increase 7% to 11% by 2050, and it could occur in more intense rain events that cause localized flooding.
• By 2050, there is a 50% chance that sea level along New Jersey’s coastline will rise by 1.4 feet, and a 17% chance it will rise by at least 2.1 feet. This will increase coastal flooding during sunny days and storms, threatening infrastructure, residents and businesses.
Sea level is projected to further increase by as much as 3 to 6 feet by 2100. To put this in perspective, most of the streets on barrier islands between Barnegat Bay and the Atlantic Ocean are about 5 to 8 feet above sea level.
• Temperature increases could intensify air pollution, which in turn would threaten respiratory and cardiovascular health. These impacts are likely to be worse for lower-income communities and communities of color, which already are disproportionately affected by pollution.
• Although overall precipitation is increasing, the time between rain events may become longer, causing droughts. This could reduce the Garden State’s agricultural capacity, leading to decreased food production, increased food prices and economic losses to farmers. In addition, some crops currently grown in New Jersey may not do well in warmer temperatures.
• In addition to dry periods between strong storms, higher temperatures will increase evaporation from water bodies, and vegetation will transpire water and deplete soil moisture more quickly. Groundwater levels will drop, resulting in loss of headwater wetlands. Critical vernal pond habitats for rare species will dry and disappear at far more alarming rates than what is already occurring.
• Wildfire seasons could lengthen and intensify, increasing the risk to New Jersey communities.
• If carbon dioxide emissions continue unabated, the ocean will become more acidic, impacting important marine and estuarine life and New Jersey’s fishing industry.
• Harmful algal blooms in New Jersey’s lakes may increase in frequency and intensity, disrupting swimming and fishing, and posing risks to the state’s drinking water supply reservoirs.
The report is a wake-up call for immediate action toward reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases like methane. Proactive and aggressive steps now will help to keep climate change impacts as minimal as possible.
New Jersey cannot avoid these impacts, but taking action now can help keep them at the lower end of the potential ranges.
The encouraging news is that New Jersey is already taking action. The state’s energy master plan sets a goal of 100% clean electricity by 2050, generated by solar and wind power. Electrifying the building and transportation sectors and shifting away from fossil fuels will help.
New Jersey can also employ “natural solutions” to climate change, using the ability of trees, vegetation and soils to sequester carbon.
That means preserving as much forested land as possible, letting forests mature, planting native trees on fallow lands and in urban and suburban landscapes (and protecting them from deer and invasive species), restoring wetlands, and transitioning to sustainable agricultural practices that sequester carbon.
The report also provides New Jerseyans with information to plan for the changes we know are coming.
“This report will empower governments, businesses and people across the state to better understand how climate change is impacting and will continue to impact all aspects of life in New Jersey,” said David Rosenblatt, the state’s Chief Resilience Officer and Assistant Commissioner for Climate and Flood Resilience at the DEP.
“The more we learn about and experience the impacts of climate change in New Jersey, the clearer our urgent need for resilience planning becomes,” he said.
To read the report, go to https://www.nj.gov/dep/climatechange/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Far Hills. She may be reached at email@example.com