Our climate is changing
Since the end of the last glacial period 18,000 years ago, the earth’s climate has been generally stable, allowing humans to thrive, accomplish major achievements—from agriculture to industry—and develop complex civilizations. But the conditions we have evolved in are now changing quickly. The earth’s temperature has been increasing for the past 130 years at an accelerating pace, and scientists have concluded that it is very likely that this has been caused by human activities – primarily the increasing use of fossil fuels. Burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide (CO2)—a heat-trapping or “greenhouse” gas—into the atmosphere, causing average temperatures to increase. We are already experiencing some of the effects of climate change, some of which can be very disrupting and costly and are expected to get worse if no action is taken: more frequent severe storms, flooding and sea level rise, more frequent heat waves, and accelerating loss of habitats and species.
Flooding during an extremely high tide on State Street, adjacent to the Woodbridge River in New Jersey
(Bill Schultz/Raritan Riverkeeper).
The climate of the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary is changing and sea level is rising.
Average temperatures in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan region have risen and are expected to continue increasing. What this means for our region is not warmer weather throughout the year, but rather a profound disruption of our climate, with extreme and unpredictable weather becoming more common. Changes that are expected for our region include:
- Heat waves in the summer are very likely to become more frequent, intense, and longer in duration.
- Sea level rise will continue and accelerate in the future.
- Intense precipitation events that can cause inland flooding are likely to increase, and droughts are more likely than not to become more severe.
New York Panel on Climate Change. 2009. NYC Climate Risk Information.
Observed annual temperature in Central Park. Data: Columbia Center for Climate Systems Research.
Sea level rise at the Battery tide gage Station (1901-2006), NYC.
What does this mean to you, as a resident of the Harbor estuary?
Climate change can affect our daily lives in many ways. As residents of an estuary, close to the coast and waterways, some of the impacts can be particularly severe for our families, businesses, and ecosystems if we do not act. For example, heat waves can affect our decisions to be outdoors, as they are debilitating and even deadly, particularly for the elderly. Increased energy use to cool down our homes and businesses can lead to more frequent blackouts and will release even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, generating further climate change.
Intense rain storms combined with sea level rise results in increasing flooding of low-lying neighborhoods, affecting our homes, buildings, transportation and other infrastructure. The results are increased transportation disruptions, beach and shorefront erosion, and loss of wetlands, among other negative effects. Throughout the Estuary, projected increases in intense rain storms may increase water pollution caused by the overflow of combined sewers and runoff
This means that if we do not work to reduce and prevent problems, climate change can affect our commutes, the provisioning of basic services such as water and electricity, and our ability to do our jobs. These changes are not only disrupting, but also very expensive for our communities. As these conditions may occur more frequently, we will need to adapt our current structures and habits in the longer-term.
Current Issues and Projects:
NOAA Climate Services
US Global Change Research Program
US Environmental Protection Agency Region 2
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Sustainability and Green Energy
New York City Panel on Climate Change