‘Wake-up call’ report details looming floods

TOM JOHNSON, ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT WRITER | FEBRUARY 16, 2022 

NJ Spotlight News

Jan. 24, 2016: Max Sorensen paddled through his neighborhood in Stone Harbor after flooding caused by a major storm.

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The United States is projected to experience up to a 1-foot rise in sea levels along its coastline by 2050, a prognosis that will significantly increase coastal flooding, according to a new report led by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

On average, the U.S. will see as much sea level rise in the next 30 years as seen in the last 100 years, according to the multi-agency report, which its authors said provides the most up-to-date sea level rise projections for all states and territories by decade for the next century.

“This report is a wake-up call for the U.S. but it’s a wake-up call with a silver lining,’’ said Richard Spinrad, NOAA Administrator in a virtual webinar held by the agency. “These updated data can inform coastal communities and others about current and future vulnerabilities in the face of climate change and help them make smart decisions to keep people and property safe over the long run.’’

For those communities, they are likely to see a profound increase in the frequency of coastal flooding, even in the absence of storms or heavy rainfall.

“By 2050, moderate flooding — which is typically disruptive and damaging by today’s weather, sea level and infrastructure standards — is expected to occur more than 10 times as often as it does today,’’ said Nicole LeBoeuf, NOAA’s National Ocean Service Director.

Four times a year?

Instead of a single event every two to five years, moderate flooding will occur as many four times a year by mid-century. High tide flooding, sometimes called “sunny day flooding,” will also increase, according to the report. Major or destructive flooding is expected to occur five times as often in 2050 as it does today.

That is bad news for New Jersey’s coastal communities, which have increasingly battled tidal flooding, also dubbed nuisance flooding, that leaves local streets underwater even without a drop of rainfall. Those communities face the prospect of making major upgrades to their infrastructure, including stormwater systems that have been problems for decades.

In New Jersey, sea level rise is occurring at the same time land is sinking in coastal areas, making it more vulnerable to rising waters.

“It will be a major challenge for our coastal cities,’’ said Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator, who added it is past time to take action on the climate crisis. NASA was among the half-dozen agencies that produced the sea level rise report.

The sobering aspect of the report is that many of these projections for 2050 will occur because of greenhouse-gas emissions that have already occurred. They will happen no matter what the nation accomplishes with reducing future carbon pollution, according to Spinrad.

‘Code red’

But the report argues current and future emissions matter. About 2 feet of sea level rise along much of the nation’s coastline is increasingly likely between 2020 and 2100 because of emissions to date, the report says. Failure to curb future emissions could cause an additional 1.5 to 5 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century, the report warned.

“This new data on sea rise is the latest reconfirmation that our climate crisis — as the President has said — is blinking ‘code red,’’’ Gina McCarthy, National Climate Adviser, said in a statement. “We must redouble our efforts to cut the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, while, at the same time, help our coastal communities become resilient in the face of rising seas.’’

The regions most vulnerable to sea level rise include the Gulf Coast (14-18 inches) and the East Cost (10-14 inches) followed by the West Coast (4-8 inches), according to the report. Sea level rise will vary regionally along the coasts because of changes in land and ocean height.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-02-16 02:38:23 -0800