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MAY 2020

Climate Change in New Jersey: Impacts and Responses

New Jersey in the 21st century can expect higher temperatures, a greater frequency of heavy precipitation events, and rising sea levels.

Climate change in New Jersey is having far-reaching impacts on the economy, the environment, and the way we conduct our everyday lives. Warmer temperatures are expected to produce more severe heat waves. Sea level rise and heavy rains are causing more frequent and intense flooding. These and other climate-related hazards are projected to escalate through the 21st century and will fall heaviest on New Jersey’s most vulnerable populations.

The discussion of climate change often focuses on catastrophic events like Hurricane Sandy, which devastated parts of the Jersey Shore and caused widespread storm damage in 2012. But over time even the subtle effects of climate change can have significant consequences. And because climate impacts often occur simultaneously, they tend to overlap and reinforce each other and exacerbate existing weaknesses. A failure in one system – a power outage, for instance – can have ripple effects on other critical systems such as transportation or water treatment, with downstream impacts on business, health, and community life.

New Jerseyans are already seeing how weather patterns associated with climate change can affect transportation, energy, and communications infrastructure. Roads, power plants, and other critical facilities in low-lying coastal areas or near inland waterways are prone to inundation due to heavy downpours, sea level rise, and storm tides. High temperatures can damage roadways and rail tracks and reduce the efficiency of power lines. Electricity demand soars during periods of extreme heat, further straining the power grid.

Repairing PATH train tunnel after Sandy

Repairing PATH train tunnel after Hurricane Sandy, 2012

Route 29 flooded in Trenton after Hurricane Irene 2011

Flooding caused by Hurricane Irene in 2011 closes Route 29

Warming may benefit some aspects of agriculture in New Jersey but also presents significant challenges. Warmer winters mean harmful insects are active for longer periods of time, and their populations may not be reduced by severe winter cold as they once were. Rising temperatures also encourage the northward spread of pests and weeds from the southern states.

Early spring warming can throw certain crops out of sync with pollinators and is especially damaging to fruit trees when followed by a cold snap. Crops that require long chilling periods for optimum growth, such as cranberries and northern blueberries, may not be as productive as they once were. Other crops, including cranberries, may not tolerate longer periods of high summer temperatures. And of course extreme climate conditions such as droughts, heat waves, and heavy rains can be harmful to crops and livestock, especially when they occur at sensitive times in the agricultural season.

Warming is also having an impact on marine ecosystems. There is evidence that fish commonly found off the Jersey Shore are shifting north, disrupting the operation of commercial fishing boats and processing plants and complicating fishery regulation. Ocean warming is the principal cause of sea level rise, making coastal infrastructure associated with the fishing industry (such as docks, roads, and processing plants) vulnerable to flooding. There are also concerns that ocean acidification, caused by an increase of carbon dioxide in seawater, will harm shell-forming creatures like scallops and oysters and damage the lucrative shellfish harvest.

Fresh produce at the Hunterdon Land Trust Farmers Market in Flemington, NJ

Public health is an additional concern. Heat stress is a risk for people with cardiac or respiratory conditions, older adults, young children, pregnant women, and those who work outdoors. It’s especially acute in urban areas, where asphalt and dark roofs retain heat, and there’s little tree cover – a situation known as the “urban heat island effect.”

Longer warm seasons and heavy rains promote the growth of allergens like mold, mildew, and pollen. Extreme heat produces a potent form of air pollution known as ground-level ozone that triggers asthma. Disease-carrying ticks and mosquitoes thrive during extended periods of warm weather and heavy rains, and the range of vector-borne illnesses such as Lyme, West Nile, and chikungunya is changing.

Climate change is a threat to our water supply as well. Flooding is a risk for wastewater facilities, which are typically sited in low-lying areas near waterways. Intense downpours routinely overwhelm the capacity of antiquated sewer systems in certain urban areas, causing the release of untreated sewage. In south Jersey and along the coast, sea level rise exacerbates saltwater migration into aquifers that serve as a source of drinking water. And there’s concern that climate change, along with nutrient pollution, may cause harmful algal blooms to be more extensive and frequent.

Solar array in Hunterdon County, NJRESPONSES
Responses to climate change generally fall into two categories: adaptation and mitigation. Adaptation entails preparing for changes that are unavoidable – strengthening the resiliency of the power grid against extreme weather or revising building codes in areas prone to sea level rise, for instance.

Mitigation, on the other hand, addresses the causes of climate change chiefly by switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy like wind and solar. Another mitigation strategy is carbon sequestration – the removal and storage of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Reforestation is a type of mitigation strategy, because vegetation, especially trees, absorb atmospheric carbon in the process of photosynthesis.

The 2007 New Jersey Global Warming Response Act (GWRA) puts a statutory limit on the emission of greenhouse gases. The limit is to achieve 80% reductions from 2006 levels by 2050 – or about a 75% reduction from today’s levels. The Act was reauthorized and updated in 2019 with additional, more directed mandates to the provisions of the 2007 Act. New Jersey has taken many steps towards achieving the 2050 goal but still has a long way to go. The GWRA requires the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to issue a report that outlines the state’s strategy to achieve the 2050 limit. The report is expected to be issued in early summer 2020.

Meet the Climate Corps

Angel Alguera, Rutgers Climate CorpsAngel Alguera
I am a first-year Atmospheric Science master’s degree student in the Department of Environmental Sciences, and my work focuses on meteorology and applications of climate change resiliency. My professional interests include severe weather forecasting and community preparedness regarding weather-related disasters. I work with Dr. James Shope at the NJ Climate Change Resource Center to produce applied research and reports relevant to New Jersey stakeholders. I currently assist with climate change data analysis, large dataset management, and report writing.

Daniel GilkesonDaniel Gilkeson
I’m a second-year master’s student in the City and Regional Planning Program with a concentration in environmental planning. As a planner, I hope to build more resilient communities in the face of increased risk due to climate change. With the Climate Change Resource Center, I am working on a project to aid the state in an update of its floodplain buyout program, known as Blue Acres, to be more proactive and comprehensive. Prior to this position, I interned in the Community and Economic Development Office at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Association. I’m also an AmeriCorps alum, having completed a year of service working on affordable housing in Nashville, Tennessee.

Benjamin GoldbergBenjamin Goldberg
I am a second-year Master of City and Regional Planning student concentrating in climate adaptation and resiliency planning, with experience in sustainable food systems. I joined the Climate Corps last summer to help develop a GIS-based food waste recovery tool, and currently support community resilience through flood vulnerability analysis. I hold a B.A. from Middlebury College and a Certificate in Ecological Horticulture from UC Santa Cruz.

Surya Jacob, Rutgers Climate CorpsSurya Jacob
I am a graduate student in the Master of City and Regional Planning program at the Bloustein School concentrating in community development, focused on housing, land and finance, as well as pursuing the Real Estate Development/Redevelopment Certification. Prior to Bloustein, I worked as an architect and interior designer in India and Canada and am pivoting towards a career in urban planning to engage in extensive projects at the macro level. My interests include affordable and mixed income housing, urban redevelopment, and housing finance, and I am deeply passionate about climate resilience in community planning. Being part of Climate Corps is a foundational step towards helping to solve equity issues in vulnerable communities along the coastal region.

Vineesh Das Kodakkandathil, RutgersVineesh Das Kodakkandathil
I am an urban planner with five years of professional experience in community-led ecotourism development and land use and environment management planning in ecologically sensitive areas. I have worked on and conducted extensive environmental sensitivity analyses, flood and landslide vulnerability assessments, and human impact assessments with the help of GIS tools. I’m currently pursuing my master’s in City and Regional Planning at Bloustein School with a concentration in Transport Planning and GIS.

Douglas LeungDouglas Leung
I am working with the Climate Change Resource Center to identify vulnerable communities and places affected by climate-induced flooding in coastal New Jersey municipalities. I am a Master of City and Regional Planning candidate at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. As a planner, I want to develop strategies and solve problems affecting our cities and communities that enable more equitable outcomes in housing and transportation. I am also a recent Army veteran, having served as a company commander of recruiting in the northern suburbs of Chicago and as a reconnaissance platoon leader in the 10th Mountain Division. For fun, I enjoy weightlifting, running, reading fiction, and board games.

Nihar MhatreNihar Mhatre
I am a master’s candidate in city and regional planning at Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, focusing on urban design and land use planning. Before being accepted at Rutgers, I worked as an architect at JD Studio and had my own architectural practice, Vastu Insights. My research interests revolve around designing and developing climate change adaptation and resilience strategies to promote equity in urban landscapes. Having the opportunity to work on real-world projects through Climate Corps will be an essential step in the development of my understanding of addressing climate change issues in vulnerable regions.

Justin MorrisJustin Morris
Justin is a master’s student at Rutgers University studying discovery informatics and data sciences. He is working under Professor Mark Rodgers to develop an optimization model that will act as a decision support tool for university financial investments with the end goal of eliminating Rutgers’ scope 2 emissions. He is excited to apply his background in data analytics and mathematical programming to help the university fight climate change.

Josephine O'GradyJosephine O’Grady
I am a first-year student in the Master of Public Policy program. Through the Coastal Climate Risk and Resilience (C2R2) certification, I am focusing a significant portion of my graduate coursework on topics including coastal geomorphology, environmental justice, and hazard mitigation planning. Before beginning my studies at the Bloustein School, I received my bachelor’s degree in public health from Kean University, where I first became interested in how coastal dynamics shape lived experiences. I previously served as an intern at the New Jersey State Policy Lab and currently work for the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH) team.

Jessica Parineet Jessica Parineet
I am a first-year Master of Public Policy student at the Bloustein School with a strong interest in climate change policy and related topics. In my previous work, I gained experience in a number of dimensions of climate change issues through carbon capture storage research, urban heat island research, and community level engagement as I am currently on the Student Advisory Board for the Rutgers Office of Climate Action. I am excited to expand on my interests in environmental justice and local level resilience planning through my involvement in the Climate Corps.

Dillon Patel Dillan Patel
I am a second-year Master of City and Regional Planning student concentrating in Environmental Planning and International Development. I have previously worked as an economist performing cost-benefit analysis and conducting monitoring and evaluation for renewable energy in developing countries. I have also spent a summer in western Massachusetts mapping stormwater infrastructure and working with planners to identify suitable places for green stormwater infrastructure.

Moira Sweeder, Rutgers Climate CorpsMoira Sweeder
I am a graduate student enrolled in the Master of City and Regional Planning program at the Bloustein School. My concentration is environmental planning with a focus on coastal resilience. Before pursuing my master’s degree at Rutgers, I studied sustainability at Stockton University. During this time, I interned for the PSEG Institute of Sustainability Studies, the Jacques Cousteau National Estuary Research Reserve, and NJ Audubon. I am thrilled to now be a part of the Climate Corps, researching coastal resilience as a part of the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH) team.

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