How many miles inland should you build a home if you want it to be a shore house in the year 2100? The answer depends on where along the beach you want it to be, but the numbers look pretty grim according to Climate Central, a Palmer Square-based think tank dedicated to the study of climate change. The organization recently released an interactive map, called the Surging Seas Project (www. sealevel.climatecentral.org), that shows just how far the water will go when climate change causes the sea level to rise.
When the oceans rise 10 feet, according to the map, places where 7 percent of New Jersey’s population live (more than half a million people) will be underwater. The current coastline will disappear, putting most Jersey Shore towns and the barrier islands beneath the waves. Long before then, when the seas rise just a few feet, the risk of flooding for communities on dry land will rise dramatically.
The Surging Seas Project is a more advanced version of a tool the group released in 2012 that only showed which places would be submerged. The latest version includes tools for analyzing flood risk. Users can plug in a city, state, or a town, and see how those places will be affected by sea level rise, including detailed information about schools, hospitals, airports, roads, and railroads, and total property value that will be under water.
The enhanced tool includes “social vulnerability” data that you can see represented on the map — that is, which communities in the way of the waters will lack the resources to mount an effective defense, or a response in case of a flood.
“It means the ability of a community to prepare for, respond to, and recover from a natural disaster like flooding,” says Ben Strauss, vice president of Climate Central. When Strauss used the new analysis tool to examine New Jersey, he was alarmed by what he saw. “If you live in a neighborhood with high social vulnerability, you have double the chance of living in a high flood risk area than you would if you were just part of the population,” he says. “That kind of explodes the image that people have of flooding, which is that people who are affected by it are the ones with second homes at the shore.”
The site uses demographics, race, income, and other measures to determine “social vulnerability,” Strauss says.
The new data analysis also illustrates how flood risk goes up for communities that would not be completely underwater. Climate Central estimates there is a one in six chance the sea will be two feet higher by 2020, and predicts similar odds for the sea being 10 feet higher by 2100.
“We really want to inform people to make better decisions,” Strauss says. “It’s obviously devastating. I think it’s very likely that we will see the sea level rise 10 feet after this century. In between those times, floods become more and more likely. That is another central lesson of the tool, which is that when most people think of sea level rise, they think of tides coming in and changing the coast in the distant future. But actually, sea level rise is making extreme floods more likely in the present and in the near future.”
While a permanent 10-foot rise in sea levels is decades or even centuries away, Hurricane Sandy pushed waters to that height in some places, and the risk of the same thing happening in the future only increases as the water slowly but inevitably rises.
“Under the worst-case scenario, a 10-foot flood could be a common occurrence in North Jersey by the end of the century,” Strauss says.
Climate Central, 1 Palmer Square, Suite 330, Princeton 08542; 609-924-3800; fax, 609-924-3882. Paul Hanle, president and CEO. www.climatecentral.org.