Sea Level Rise Cause For More Severe and More Frequent Storms

By Erin Delmore

It’s the new trend. The kind of severe storm and flooding that use to hit our region once every 500 years, is now pummeling us every 24.

“Prior to the industrial revolution, a storm surge of this size was occurring once in seven generations. Now a storm surge of that size is occurring twice in a generation,” said Professor Benjamin Horton, Professor at Rutgers University Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences.

Horton and researchers at Princeton, Penn State, Tufts and MIT believe it’s because sea levels are rising. They say the Earth is getting warmer and water temperature is rising along with it.

“When water warms up, it occupies a greater space. It’s known as thermal expansion,” Horton said.

As sea levels rise, any extra water from a storm starts off at a higher elevation. A hurricane’s storm surge height rises along with it, and that means more floods.

Researchers say flood heights have risen nearly four feet since the year 850. The highest flood levels were reported after 1970, when pollution and Carbon emissions spiked. In fact, sea level rise is occurring six times faster now than before 1970 and we’re seeing destructive storms more often. Hurricanes form and intensify over warm waters.

Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge also hit during high tide, which causing maximum destruction.

“This would not have occurred if sea level had not been rising,” Horton said.

“Part of it is cyclical. It’s a natural process of the way things work, but then there’s another part of it that’s most likely due to human impact and we have to be aware of that and think about what that means for the future,” said Associate Professor of Coastal Engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology, John Miller.

Scientists say while it’s hard to predict a hurricane’s track, or how often we’ll get hit in a season, they’re confident about long-term effects.

“If we move into the 21 century, particularly with the rates of sea level rise, we are anticipating events such as Hurricane Sandy may be as common as occurring every other decade,” said Horton.

“Really any percentage risk is enough of a percentage risk for us to really start investing in infrastructure, in flood mitigation, changing our own personal behaviors,” said Superstorm author, Kathryn Miles.

Researchers say the key is reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and on an individual level conserving energy use. That means turning off your electronics at the plug, carpooling or taking public transportation to work and seeing where your lawmakers stand on climate change and energy reduction.