The Slow Drowning of the Jersey Coast — Seas Have Risen So High That it Just Takes a Tide to Flood Atlantis(c) City These Days

Around the world seas are rising. Fed by human warming, the great waters have been pushed to thermally expand. The added heat is melting the glaciers as well. And from the high mountains to the Arctic and on into the Antarctic there are few ice masses now that have been untouched by the rising temperatures.

The rise in ocean heights began as human fossil fuel emissions spread into the airs of the early 20th Century — warming both the atmosphere and the waters. The rate of rise was, at first, slow — less than 1 mm per year. But as the greenhouse gasses built up and rates of global heating increased, so did the annual rate of sea level rise. By the end of the 20th Century, sea level rise had more than tripled to about 2.9 mm per year. And by today that annual rate of increase has accelerated to nearly 3.4 mm per year.

AVISO sea level rise May 2016

(AVISO sea level rise graph shows rate of ocean rise again increasing in the 2010 to 2016 timeframe. It is very likely that glacial destabilization will result in ever-more-rapidly rising ocean waters as the 21st Century progresses. Image source: AVISO.)

The slow sea level rise rates during the 20th Century were manageable. Coastal communities were mostly built on high enough ground to give them some protective margin against the gradually rising tides. But now, for many cities along the US coast and upon its bays and estuaries, a kind of tipping point has been reached. Where it took a moderate-to-strong storm to generate flooding in the past, now only a high tide and a bit of onshore wind will suffice.

This issue is not just a problem for places like Miami and South Florida or New Orleans and the Louisiana Delta. It’s a problem for the entire coastline. And though the lowest-lying areas were affected first, more and more regions are starting to fall below the line of the rising tide.

A Seasonal High Tide Now is Enough to Flood Atlantic City

Such was the situation today in Atlantic City, New Jersey. There, a weak off-shore low pressure system pushed an equally weak wind toward shore. The meager flux of water driven by this mild fetch combined with a seasonal high tide. Together, these entirely normal events were enough to flood streets throughout Atlantic City.

Atlantic City Flooding

(Arizona avenue floods this morning  in Atlantic City. By evening, water levels are expected to have risen even higher. Image source: City of Atlantic.)

The flood began as storm drains dumping into local estuaries started to back up. The rising tide ran up the drains and inundated streets and neighborhoods, causing 1-3 feet of flooding in some areas. Cindy Nevitt — an award-winning Cape May reporter tweeted: “I haven’t seen my street for three days… Forecast for tonight is even worse.”

The flooding was extreme enough to cause road closures and to spark a flurry of social media comments on Twitter. Particularly hard-hit were the neighborhoods of West End and North Wildwood. To be very clear, this is no hurricane, no Superstorm Sandy, just a normal high tide riding on the back of an entirely abnormal sea level rise due to human-caused climate change.

This kind of flooding is not enough to cause major damage. But it is cause for concern. For now, Atlantic City is far more vulnerable to storms and to flooding than it has ever been in the past. And with human warming due to fossil fuel burning continuing to push seas higher, Atlantic City, like so many other US Coastal communities will, sooner or later, face the threat of total inundation.

City Could be Lost by 2030 to 2050, Unlikely to Remain Viable to 2100

For in the far south, the glaciers of Antarctica are starting to rapidly destabilize. And, in the north, Greenland melt is also rapidly accelerating. Due to the way gravity affects the world’s oceans, Antarctic melt will have the greatest effect on base sea level rise in the North Atlantic. Meanwhile, Greenland melt risks backing up the Gulf Stream and contributing to up to 3 feet of additional sea level rise on the US East Coast as water rebounds toward shore.

Atlantic City Sea Level Rise Projections

(Possible sea level rise scenarios as envisioned by a recent Rutgers study. A number of scientists, including Dr. James Hansen, points to even more extreme potentials. Image source: Sea Level Rise in New Jersey Fact Sheet.)

By as soon as 2030, seas could be as much as 1.4 feet higher than they are today in the Atlantic City region. And if the worst case scenario that scientists like James Hansen have warned us about come to pass, then by 2100 seas will have completely covered Atlantic City with a multimeter ocean rise. Put in context, by 2030 seasonal tidal flooding seen today is likely to become monthly tidal flooding by 2030. And between 2030 and 2050, such flooding will become a daily event rending most infrastructure useless and likely resulting in a complete loss of the City’s ability to function.

But even before then, one large storm may complete what hundreds of tides would eventually accomplish. For garden variety nor’easters will grow more and more capable of producing the kind of catastrophic flooding seen during Superstorm Sandy as the years progress.

It’s probably true that we’ve already burned enough fossil fuels to generate sea levels high enough to inundate many cities near or on the coastline. But continuing to burn fossil fuels makes the situation worse and far more immediate. Stopping that continued bleed of heat trapping gasses into the Earth’s atmosphere gives communities like Atlantic City a chance — if not to survive long-term against an inevitably rising tide, then to figure out a way to orderly retreat inland and to at least preserve some of the heritage that is now falling under threat from the inexorably rising waters. And such a necessary cessation would give communities still further inland a reasonable hope that they, unlike Atlantic City, will not share the fate of Atlantis.

Links:

AVISO

Coastal Flood Advisory

Sea Level Rise in New Jersey Fact Sheet

City of Atlantic

Cindy Nevitt

Hat tip to Griffin

Leave a comment

40 Comments

  1. Griffin

     /  May 6, 2016

    Honored for the hat tip! To contribute in a small way to the best website on the internet is a real honor.

    Reply
  2. climatehawk1

     /  May 6, 2016

    Nice. Here’s another pertinent piece I tweeted a day or two ago FYI: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/05/160502-rising-seas-climate-change-atlantic-city/

    Reply
  3. JPL

     /  May 6, 2016

    This will be an interesting case study, as Atlantic City is broke AF and possibly just a few days from bankruptcy.

    Mitigation is expensive… and temporary.

    Reply
    • Adaptation is expensive and temporary. Mitigation involves reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing the scale of the problem.

      Reply
      • JPL

         /  May 6, 2016

        Yep. Mitigation was the wrong word for what I was describing in the context of climate change.

        Reply
        • Mitigation/Prevention are linked. Adaptation/Response are linked.

          No worries, though. I see the term misused quite a bit these days.

      • Cate

         /  May 7, 2016

        Could we say, generally, that mitigation is more proactive, adaptation more reactive?

        So, adapt = react, is that a useful mnemonic?

        Reply
  4. Griffin

     /  May 6, 2016

    Relevant to SLR, here is a link to a beautiful high definition webcam that overlooks the town beach in historic Sandwich, Massachusetts.
    The beach underwent extensive restoration this winter as the Cape Cod Canal was dredged, with the resulting sand deposited on the beach shown on the cam. If you zoom in on the “latest snap” pic, you can even see the freshly planted beach grass. Further down are two sets of expensive and quite doomed stairs that lead to the beach.
    Although sheltered in Cape Cod Bay, Sandwich is considered to be extremely vulnerable to sea level rise. The cam provides a great way to not only visit the beach in HD from your computer, but also see how the newly deposited sand fares as the sea rises.
    http://video-monitoring.com/beachcams/sandwich/

    Reply
  5. Wharf Rat

     /  May 6, 2016

    “There is only one way to go out… singing”

    Reply
  6. JPL

     /  May 6, 2016

    Are the daily updates on the cryosphere today arctic sea ice area chart still reliable or of value?
    http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/arctic.sea.ice.interactive.html

    The recent data is going wacky due to the satellite sensor issues, is that correct?

    Reply
  7. PlazaRed

     /  May 6, 2016

    Thank you for such an informative blog.
    Amazing to learn that a city the size of Atlantic City is beginning to experience regular tides in the streets.
    The effects of salt water on any exposed land can only be bad to catastrophic for plant life.

    Meanwhile it seems that the Arctic ice charts are back via some system of compromise which I am not familiar with.
    Apologies to anybody who may already have posted this.

    Reply
  8. PlazaRed

     /  May 6, 2016

    Apologies for the lack of chart above but the site defiantly has a chart for the 5th of May 2016. I don’t know why it wont link to this site!

    http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

    Reply
    • Wharf Rat

       /  May 7, 2016

      May 6, 2016

      NSIDC has obtained data from the DMSP F-18 satellite and is in the process of intercalibrating the F-18 data with F-17 data. Intercalibration addresses differences between the series of sensors, in order to provide a long-term, consistent sea ice record. While this work continues, we are displaying the uncalibrated F-18 data in the daily extent image. The daily time series graph shows F-17 data through March 31, and F-18 data from April 1 forward. Initial evaluation of the uncalibrated F-18 data indicates reasonable agreement with F-17, but the data should be considered provisional and quantitative comparisons with other data should not be done at this time.

      http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

      Reply
  9. This Long Island Sound link I put up in the wee hours and on the previous post may be of value here:

    Reply
  10. Reply
  11. Reply
  12. ‘Piles of dead whales, salmon, sardines and clams blamed on the El Nino freak weather phenomenon have been clogging Chile’s pacific beaches in recent months.’

    Reply
    • – The coast of central VN had dead ‘wash ups’ recently — tho may not be linked.

      Reply
    • Not El Niño… Climate Change. This wouldn’t have happened without the extra heat we’ve loaded into the system. El Niño would not have made the waters warm enough to promote mass morality on this scale.

      Reply
      • That’s for sure. “El Nino” gets constant usage that serves as a scapegoat — and allows CC to be not talked about.

        Reply
    • Cate

       /  May 7, 2016

      What “experts” blame El Nino?

      Reply
  13. Reply
  14. Griffin

     /  May 7, 2016

    Simply incredible video of a massive cliff collapse on Cape Cod the other day.
    http://capecodonline.com/video-giant-cliff-collapses-truro/

    Reply
  15. Mblanc

     /  May 8, 2016
    Reply
  16. Gabriel Larriuz

     /  May 8, 2016

    I fear that the extremely hot blob right at the eastern coast of the US is causing this. Hot water expands, creating a local sea level rise much higher than average. I hope I’m wrong.

    http://earth.nullschool.net/#current/ocean/primary/waves/overlay=sea_surface_temp_anomaly/orthographic=-66.43,39.72,1021/loc=-64.425,41.081

    Reply
    • You’ve got it mostly right. The high SSTs do thermally expand the ocean in that region. But thermal expansion is not enough to account for the approximate 1 foot of sea level rise we are currently seeing in this region. That appears to be mainly due to Gulf Stream slowdown which causes waters to rebound toward the US East Coast.

      Reply
  17. “Already, at least 13 islands in the bay have disappeared entirely, and many more are at risk of being lost soon.” (Will This Float Your Boat – 10, The Extinction of Chesapeake Bay Islands)

    Reply
  18. As someone who spent many happy summer days at the Jersey shore, I peered into this dark horizon when I took my daughter back there in 2009. Here are my personal reflections, including a Springsteen-ish lyric I wrote called “Dead Cities Walking.”

    http://cascadiaplanet.blogspot.com/2015/04/ocean-city-cities-in-ocean.html
    http://cascadiaplanet.blogspot.com/2015/05/from-greenland-coast-to-jersey-shore.html

    Reply
  1. US Climate Migrations About to Begin | Doomstead Diner

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