by Neil Stalter | Zoom Out Mycology
Water is the most destructive force on the planet, causing billions of dollars in property damage and tens of thousands of casualties every year. Much of this is due to flooding is the major culprit in this destruction. Streets, homes, and businesses filling with water can shake the very foundation of a community, and it will never be the same. Consider for example, the flooding following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. To this day, communities (particularly poor and underprivileged areas) are still feeling the lingering effects of the flooding the storm left in its wake. (1) Puerto Rico, in a similar fashion, will continue to feel the effects of Hurricane Maria indefinitely; not the least of which the loss of life the storm and subsequent flooding caused. Unfortunately, the country and planet now face a growing problem that will increase the frequency and intensity of these flooding events: sea level rise.
In the next 80 years, by 2100, there is a projected sea level rise of 0.2m to 2.0m (2). To put that in perspective, a rise of 0.9m would inundate land area in the US housing roughly 4.2 million people, and a rise of 1.8m would inundate land area housing for 13.1 million people (3). New York is the most vulnerable city to sea level rise, followed by many cities in Florida (Miami, Sunrise, Tampa, etc.) and Charleston SC (4). However, these are far from the only places at risk. Coastal cities across the country will be fundamentally changed by rising sea levels. This includes New York’s neighbors to the west, Jersey City and Newark, along with all the other New Jersey cities dotting the Atlantic. These cities are at a growing risk for huge flooding events (over 6 ft) from storm surges in the next 50 years. A similar event is pictured in the photo at the beginning of this article, in Seaside Heights, NJ following Hurricane Sandy.
The Science Of Sea Level Rise
According to the NOAA, sea level rise is continuing at a rate of roughly 1/8 of an inch per year (5). My Colleague Alyssa wrote a fantastic piece about how the melting of glaciers due to global warming is accelerating sea level rise. I absolutely suggest you read that for a more in depth look at the science behind the cause of sea level rise and how it affects climate (https://www.zoomoutmycology.com/blog/glaciers-global-warming). As the ice caps and glaciers in places like Greenland and Northern Canada melt due to increasing temperatures, that water eventually runs into the oceans. In fact, roughly 60-90% of the world’s freshwater is locked into the ice cap on Antarctica. If that were all to melt, the oceans would rise 200ft, or 61m (6). Since 2007, the rate at which Antarctica’s ice is melting has tripled (7). Andrew Shephard, the first author of the study, said “Around Brooklyn you get flooding once a year or so, but if you raise sea level by 15 centimeters then that’s going to happen 20 times a year.” This is the crux of sea level rise. It’s not necessarily about a house being inundated with water 100% of the time, although that is absolutely a concern. The more pressing problem is about the intensity and frequency of flooding from storm events.
Sea level rise is a very real problem that we as a country and society need to tackle in a deliberate and comprehensive way. However, some people lobby for not taking sea level rise and climate change seriously. One such example of this is a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal found here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-sea-is-rising-but-not-because-of-climate-change-1526423254?mod=e2fb. This article takes a dangerous stance, and then doesn’t back it up with sound science. The author only cites information from one article from 1990 and uses data from 1915-1945, and finally claims that the scientific consensus on the link between climate change and sea level rise is wrong. The Author, Mr. Singer, goes on to say “There is nothing we can do about it, except to build dikes and seawalls a little bit higher.” Though certainly building dikes and seawalls is a first line of defense against the sea, a true solution would be to slow the acceleration of sea level rise through comprehensive climate policy that stems climate change. Though I often appreciate some articles and stories from the WSJ, this is an important reminder to always conduct research on my own and to read everything critically, even from sources that I consider trustworthy.
As sea levels rise, these flooding events can make coastal areas and marshlands uninhabitable by humans and other organisms, destroying natural habitat and homes alike. The map to the right made with NOAA data shows highlighted areas in Newark and Jersey city that will be inundated with water in a 2m high sea level rise scenario. The bottom legend refers to the social vulnerability of those areas, which is based on income measurements. As you can see, the vast majority of this area is of a high or medium vulnerability. Unfortunately, low-income populations and people of color are particularly at risk of being pushed out of their homes and neighborhoods by sea-level rise in the next 100 years.
Newark is particularly vulnerable to storm surge events that cause significant damage to homes and businesses. Coastal flooding linked to sea level rise and climate change has increased dramatically in the past 30 years. The bar chart below is from climatecentral.org and illustrates just how much climate-linked sea level rise has increased flooding events in Newark in the past decade. In the ten years from 2005-2014, flooding events linked to sea level rise increased by 24 days when compared to 1995-2004. All of this data and more can be found at: https://riskfinder.climatecentral.org/place/newark.nj.us?comparisonType=place&forecastName=Basic&forecastType=NCA_inthi&level=6&unit=ft. I also suggest putting your city (if you live near a coast) into the search bar and take a look at what areas are at risk in your area due to sea level rise.
Flash Flooding in Newark
If this trend continues, floods like those seen in the South Ward of Newark following rain storms will become more common. The sights in videos like the one above won’t be unusual. Unfortunately, Newark is already a city with issues providing adequate housing to all of its citizens. Flooding to this degree will only make that harder. Potential mass migrations of people from coastal cities like Newark and New York will be much more likely should sea level rise continue at the current pace.
To protect these communities, significant public funds will have to be allocated to resiliency efforts. To make this protection a reality, as advocates for a healthy and sustainable environment, we have to vote for policy makers who recognize and prioritize this issue. We need to make sure everyone in coastal communities is aware of the problem and can make informed decisions about where they live. And finally, we must continue to advocate for renewable energy and public policy that will help stem climate change and slow the rise of the oceans. One of the best ways to make sure your voice is heard is by calling your congressional representatives and senators. To find their numbers and how to contact them, you can simply type your address into the search bar here: https://www.nationalpriorities.org/take-action/contact-your-representative/ and all of your representatives will come up with their office’s contact information. Even if your representative does not hold the same priorities you do, it can make a big difference in their actions and words if many of their constituents call with similar concerns. As with all things, all of us working together to advocate for long-term sustainability can make a real difference!
Zoom Out Mycology’s Environmental Awareness blog strives to explain and expose environmental topics and concerns to a wide audience. Our team consists of a diverse group of scientists, policy experts, and engineers that help describe the science behind environmental issues that you see in the news and experience in your daily life. We hope that this knowledge will help all of our readers embrace a healthy and sustainable lifestyle! If you are interested in being a guest contributor, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org