Rutgers professors teach N.J. officials about climate change, rising sea levels
News Source: New Jersey Newsroom
July 9, 2012
By CAMERON BOWMAN, RUTGERS TODAY
Steve Bortko, supervisor of public works in Pine Beach, New Jersey, stands on the town beach along the Toms River. This is low tide.
The sea level is rising, New Jersey is sinking, and the state’s municipalities must make changes in planning, emergency management and land-use policies to adjust to the new reality.
That was the message from Rutgers professor Ken Miller, who addressed municipal and county officials on preparing local communities for the effects of climate change at a recent workshop, co-sponsored by the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve, which is managed by Rutgers, and the Barnegat Bay Partnership.
“I look at climate change through sea-level-colored glasses,” said Miller, a professor of earth and planetary sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences, on the first day of a three-day workshop.
Officials were asked to focus on a particular climate change-related problem facing their towns and then think through solutions that took into account rising sea levels, more frequent and severe storms and other such issues.
Sea level is rising because the water is warming, which causes water to expand, Miller explained. The land is sinking – or subsiding to use Miller’s technical term -- because we’re drawing water out of it faster than the water can be replenished, and that leads the ground to compact.
Miller said global sea level rose following the last Ice Age, but from then until 1850, the rate of sea level rise has been negligible, from nothing to .6 millimeters per year. In the 20th century, Miller said, the rise was about 1.8 millimeters per year (about 7 inches per century). Since 2000, the sea level has risen at 3.3 millimeters a year (about a foot per century). With temperatures expected to rise by 3 to 8°F this century, the rate of rise is expected to increase.
Miller expects global sea level to rise 80 centimeters (about 2.4 feet) by the end of the century, and the sea level rise to be 100 centimeters (about 3 feet) in New Jersey, New York and southern New England.
Officials said they are dealing with the effects of climate change at a time when population in their communities is on the rise. According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, New Jersey’s shore counties – Monmouth, Ocean, Burlington, Atlantic and Cape May – have grown 36 percent in the last 30 years. In Ocean County, where the workshop was held, the population rose 96 percent between 1980 and 2010.
Steve Bortko, supervisor of public works in Pine Beach, Ocean County, focused on his town’s constantly replenished and ever-shrinking beach along the Toms River. The beach has been under assault by the elements for as long as Bortko can remember.
The beach was once several yards further out into the Toms, even at high tide, Bortko said. In the town of Toms River, where bulkheads shelter spacious homes, a high tide pulled by a full moon will bounce off those bulkheads but submerge most of Pine Beach’s beach and much of the road that runs along the beach. “A nor’easter just kills us,” he said.
Keeping the beach accessible to the townspeople has been difficult. The solution has been to pour more sand on the beach, but high tides, boat wakes and storms wash the sand away faster than it can be replenished. “Replenishment is an overwhelming task,” Bortko said. “We’ve spent a lot of money in the last three years, and we’re still nowhere near where we once were.”
Bortko said the workshop gave him a better understanding of the factors behind the increased frequency and severity of storms as well as the rising sea levels. Although he and his neighbors will have to live with that reality, he realizes they are not helpless. In the workshop, Bortko worked out a new beach replenishment strategy – fine sand over coarse sand, so that the two mix and are harder to wash away. “And in November, I’ll plant dune grass like crazy,” he said.