Climate change in NJ: State report details what's happened, what's coming

How is the climate already changing in New Jersey?

Higher temperatures in both summer and winter. Different rainfall patterns. Sea level rise. More “extreme events” such as storms, floods and hot spells.

On Monday, the New Jersey Sierra Club drew attention to a state climate change report updated and posted on the state website in June.

Jeff Tittel, director of the environmental organization, suggested that since the state posted it without fanfare, officials were trying to hide it. Folks at the Department of Environmental Protection, whose scientists prepared the report, said that wasn’t so.

So the political battle over climate change and whether Gov. Christie puts as much stock into it as he should continues.

What’s most interesting to me is what the report actually says, and how it differs from a similar report completed in 2010.

Right off the bat: The 2010 report cites “ever increasing carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere from human activity” as the cause for the warming of the Earth’s crust.

By the 2013 report, it’s more complex — “a result of ever increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from human activity, as well as natural climate variability.”

The new report goes into precipitation trends more thoroughly, noting that “despite a trend toward more precipitation, the Northeast is seeing longer periods without rainfall and longer growing seasons. The result is a drier growing season, especially during the summer months … “

The summer drying trend is “exacerbated by reduced recharge from spring during snowmelt,” the report notes.

Bad new for agriculture, and I hope to look at this in a future story. If any New Jersey farmers or ag scientists want to give me their perspective, I’d welcome it.

The report also notes — as did the 2010 report — that there’s been “a statistically significant rise in average statewide temperature” since 1895. Air-conditioning needs are rising, and heating needs are falling.

Where the 2013 report takes a significant new tack is in its inclusion of Rutgers University estimates of sea level rise looking forward.

Their “best estimate” is that by 2050, sea level will be 17 inches higher than it was in 2000. Their “low estimate” is that it will be just 13 inches higher, and their “high estimate” is that it will be 22 inches higher.

If you want to know where the water is likely to go and what that means for your favorite shore house, check out the Rutgers sea level rise mapper. It’s fun. And a bit scary.

The report says that in Atlantic City in particular, floods that today happen only once a century will happen every year or two by 2100.

Which brings us back to Tittel’s point: Are officials doing enough to adapt and mitigate?

No doubt, the debate will rage on.

If you want to check out the reports for yourself, here’s a link to the 2010 report.

And here’s a link to the 2013 report.