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Scientists Predict Sea Level Rise on New Jersey Coast will be Well Above Global Average

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Dec 05, 2013 05:01 PM EST
Hurricane Sandy as seen from NOAA's GOES-13 satellite on October 28, 2012.
Researchers at Colorado State University are predicting a below-average hurricane season for the Atlantic basin in 2014. Pictured is Hurricane Sandy as seen from NOAA's GOES-13 satellite on October 28, 2012. (Photo : NOAA/NASA)

Geoscientists estimate that sea levels along the New Jersey shore will rise 1.5 feet by 2050 and 3 feet by 2100 - levels up to 15 inches higher than average global sea level rise projections through the end of the century.

The scientists, from Rutgers and Tufts universities, say this means by the middle of this century the once-in-10-year flood level in Atlantic City, N.J, would exceed any known flood on record in the area, surpassing even the flood levels witnessed during Hurricane Sandy.

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The research is presented in the inaugural issue of the journal Earth's Future, which is published by the American Geophysical Union.

The research team, which includes Ken Miller, Robert Kopp, Benjamin Horton and James Browning of Rutgers and Andrew Kemp of Tufts, makes their projections based on historic and modern-day records of sea-level rise in the US mid-Atlantic region. A prior study by Horton and Kemp also provided data for the present study by reconstructing 2,500 years of sea-level rise along the New Jersey shore.

"It's clear from both the tide gauge and geological records that sea level has been rising in the mid-Atlantic region at a foot per century as a result of global average sea-level rise and the solid earth's ongoing adjustment to the end of the last ice age," said Miller, a professor of earth and planetary sciences in Rutgers' School of Arts and Sciences. "In the sands of the New Jersey coastal plain, sea level is also rising by another four inches per century because of sediment compaction - due partly to natural forces and partly to groundwater withdrawal. But the rate of sea-level rise, globally and regionally, is increasing due to melting of ice sheets and the warming of the oceans."

Changes in ocean dynamics also lead to sea-level rise in the mid-Atlantic region, the researchers said.

"Most ocean models project that the Gulf Stream will weaken as a result of climate change - perhaps causing as much as a foot of additional regional sea-level rise over this century," said Kopp, who is an assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences and associate director of the Rutgers Energy Institute.

The extreme end of the researcher's projections placed mid-Atlantic sea level rise much higher, at 2.3 feet by mid-century and 5.9 feet by 2100; however, such a dramatic increase would require significant sea ice melt and a much warmer Gulf stream.

Kemp also drew a parallel between rising global temperature and rising sea levels.

"The geological sea-level records show that it's extremely likely that sea-level in New Jersey was rising faster in the 20th century than in any century in the last 4300 years," Kemp said, adding that the effects of Superstorm Sandy were worse in the mid-Atlantic region due to about 8 inches of sea-level rise in the 20th century, which exposed more than 80,000 additional people to flooding.

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