One of the most pressing—and distressing—climate change impacts faced by the world is storm surge, a storm-induced increase in water level exceeding normal, tidal levels. Storm surge is becoming more of a threat to coastal communities due to rising sea levels, since higher sea levels mean higher “normal, tidal levels” before surge even occurs. Affected communities face risks to their homes, infrastructure, and livelihoods, but what can we do about the problem, aside from abandoning coastal communities altogether?
In Episode 20 of ISGP’s “The Forum,” a biweekly audio podcast produced by the Institute on Science for Global Policy, the co-hosts contextualize storm surge, severe storms, and sea level rise in the broader picture of climate change. The New Jersey shore is chosen as a case study since 2012’s Hurricane Sandy devastated the area and raised questions as to how the same coastal communities would cope with similar, future storms exacerbated by greater storm surge.
Episode 20 recaps a debate between Mr. Tom Knutson of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and scientists, local officials, and community members of Toms River, New Jersey, and the surrounding area. The debate noted that recent hurricanes in the New Jersey coastal area have resulted from warming of the Atlantic Ocean, especially in its northern and tropical regions. The strength of forthcoming hurricanes will be inextricably linked to ocean warming, though trends in U.S. hurricanes making landfall have not been identified. Nonetheless, heightened storm surge associated with rising seas will increase the intensity of hurricanes when they do reach land, and climate models can help us predict this surge before it occurs.
The issues faced by the New Jersey shore are directly applicable to other coastal communities in the United States and abroad. However, in Episode 20 the co-hosts stress that “each location will have to analyze their own risks and make—or not make—their own adaptation decisions.” These decisions exist on a spectrum from more- to less-severe anticipated surge impacts. For instance, individuals anticipating less-severe impacts, whether accurately or inaccurately, can educate themselves about flood insurance options and emergency evacuation routes. Residents expecting more-severe or long-term impacts might even choose to relocate, especially if they will not be able to afford constant rebuilding in the case of more frequent devastation. Full communities, private companies, and emergency response platforms are also beginning, or have begun, planning for surge impacts that have become less theoretical and more a matter of “when.”
Listen to Episode 20 of ISGP’s “The Forum” below to learn more about anticipated storm surge, community impacts, and actions already being taken at the local, regional, and national level. Stay tuned for other episodes on climate change outcomes, and interact with the co-hosts on Twitter and Facebook @ISGPforum.
Disclaimer: The Institute on Science for Global Policy (ISGP) is a non-profit organization convening scientists, policy makers, industry leaders, students, and other stakeholders to discuss pertinent scientific issues facing society. The ISGP has no opinions and does not lobby, therefore all podcasts reflect the views of the presenters and debaters at ISGP conferences.