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Global Warming Linked to Extreme Flooding Along Jersey Coast

6-26-12

New Jersey’s 127 miles of coastline has been considered one of the most desirable places to live in the Garden State with land and property values in the shoreline counties totaling $106 billion. But it’s the shoreline that’s considered one of the most susceptible to storm damage, and the damage may be even greater because of global warming.

New research indicates that historic sea level rise from global warming has already more then tripled the odds of extreme coastal flooding along the Jersey shore.

“We have measured global sea level rise of eight inches over the last century and there are basically yard sticks around the world that have been measuring this progress,” said Ben Strauss, director of the Program on Sea Level Rise for Climate Central. “The way global warming translates to rise is that warmer temperatures melt ice sheets and glaciers and put that water in the ocean and warmer temperatures also expand the ocean as it warms.”

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Strauss, lead author of Surging Seas, a sea level analysis by the Princeton-based Climate Central studied the areas exposed to coastal flooding and rising seas in 22 coastal states. New Jersey ranked fifth nationwide in the number of people living on land less than five feet above the high tide line.

In the state, 236,000 residents are in a flood zone and 166,000 homes are at risk. Scientists predict there’s a 30 percent chance of a 100-year flood by 2030 in those areas. And sea levels could rise 15 inches by 2050, turning what was once considered a manageable flood into a potential disaster.

Scientists ranked the top 31 flood-prone towns in the state on flood risk maps and they’re not all along the coastline.

“A little bit of a surprise for us was to find Hoboken had the most people living at low elevation in New Jersey of any city,” Strauss said. “Atlantic City is number two on the list.”

Toms River is considered the fourth most vulnerable town to extreme flooding. Mayor Thomas Kelaher says preparation, like a strong emergency management and evacuation plan, is key.

“There are parts of our barrier island that flood regularly, because we’re only a foot or two above sea level so when you get a heavy rain storm, there’s not much opportunity for runoff,” he said.

Strauss says some of the damages from global warming can’t be reversed. Extreme coastal flooding is inevitable, but the problem can be reduced by cutting heat trapping pollutants that come from burning fossil fuels and protecting beaches and wetlands.

Lauren Wanko files this report.