Rethinking the Jersey Shore
As sea levels rise, destructive storms like Sandy could become more common
When Superstorm Sandy made landfall in October, one of the hardest hit areas was the New Jersey coast. And the area is still recovering.
"There are certain towns in lower Ocean County that you would think got hit last week," says Bob Hilton, Executive Director at the Jersey Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Hilton has been faced with the tough task of trying to revive the damaged shore. It isn't an easy job. Hilton says that the biggest challenge is letting visitors know that the shore is actually open. He says that there are more than 6,700 businesses in Monmouth and Ocean County ready for consumers.
Hilton is getting the word out that the Jersey shore is ready for visitors. But Jersey faces a bigger, more difficult problem.
Kenneth Miller is a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Miller says that no storms, including Sandy, can be directly attributed to climate change. But he adds that climate change does produce more intense storms than normal.
"Basically, storms on steroids," Miller says.
Jeffrey Kirkland is a student studying atmospheric chemistry at Rutgers University. He explains that the environment has developed mechanisms to cycle a normal amount of carbon. But so much energy has been used that the environment doesn't know what to do and the carbon remains in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. While carbon dioxide can absorb heat from the sun, it also traps heat from the Earth.
That explains global warming: Heat is trapped and kept inside Earth's atmosphere. This causes ice glaciers to melt, resulting in rising sea levels.
According to Ken Miller, global sea level rise is about three millimeters per year. This may not seem like a lot. But Miller adds that some regions are physically sinking, too. So in the Gulf Coast, the sea level has risen roughly half an inch per year. Mid-Atlantic states like New Jersey have seen sea levels rise about four to five milliliters per year.
When Sandy hit, many people thought it could be a once-in-100-years storm or a bad sign for the American and global weather patterns. But because of rising temperatures and rising sea levels, many scientists believe the latter.
"By, let's say, [the year] 2050, a storm that has a flooding power of once-in-100-years [storm] would be coming more like once every 10 years because the sea levels got much higher," Miller says. "By 2100, that ‘100-year-storm' would be coming once every five years."
One of the reasons Sandy was so destructive was because of how things were built on the shore.
"We built a lot of homes and structures on sediments that should have been washed away and replenished over time," Kirkland explains. "If we didn't build on those sediments, maybe there would have been less destruction."
What does this means for a place like New Jersey? Residents will need to rethink how they live on coastal areas – especially because storms like Sandy are likely to become more and more common.
"As the storms continue to come in, and they come in more frequently, I think that – from a government advocacy situation – we need to take a look at how we build on the waterfront, which is a large process," Hilton says.
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