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Climate Change: Case studies in sea level rise planning: public access in the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary

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Through a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Ready Estuaries program, the New York-New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program will be assessing the effects of sea level rise at a few publicly accessible waterfront sites along the Raritan River and Bay in New Jersey.

Preparing water utilities for climate change

A public access site and adjacent parking lot in Keyport, NJ during a King Tide. Though unrelated to climate-change, a King Tide can demonstrate the kind of water levels we are likely to see in the future as a result of sea level rise (photo: Mike Fedosh).

Due to a combination of climate change and regional subsidence, sea level in New York and New Jersey is rising faster than the global average. Though there is uncertainty as to the exact degree of rise expected, the New York Panel on Climate Change projects an increase of between 1-2 feet by the 2080s using a central range of scenarios, or 2.5-4.5 feet using rapid ice melt scenarios. This increase in sea level puts pressure on coastal resources across the globe. Here in the most urban estuary in the nation, there is a delicate balance between a diverse array of human uses and riparian habitats. In particular, water-based recreational areas, from which we reap the benefits of tourism, recreation, and an improved quality of life, are at the forefront of these changes. There is a precedent for valuable large-scale sea level rise planning efforts locally such as New Jersey’s Coastal Coastal Community Vulnerability Assessment Protocol, New York City’s PlaNYC, and the upper Hudson’s Revitalizing Hudson Riverfronts.  However, there are few examples of recommendations for adaptation at the fine- or site-scale.  For this reason, HEP launched a project to look at projected sea level rise and evaluating site-specific vulnerability at three publicly accessible recreation areas long the Raritan River: Donaldson Park, in Highland Park New Jersey, Old Bridge Park in Laurence Harbor, NJ, and Woodbridge Waterfront Park, a to-be-developed waterfront park in Woodbridge, NJ. These sites will serve as case studies for the broader New York – New Jersey Harbor Estuary, and the mapping component of the project will be featured on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) sea level rise and coastal flooding impacts viewer web page.

Sea level rise at one of the case study sites in Woodbridge, NJ

Figure 1: Sea level rise at one of the case study sites in Woodbridge, NJ (left) and, vulnerability assessed using Great Ecology's Vulnerability Index (right)

The technical portion of this project was completed in fall of 2012, conducted by the contractor Great Ecology. HEP will be working with partners in New Jersey in early 2013 to produce communication materials and guidance for resiliency for municipalities and land managers and owners of waterfront areas.  The report and communication materials will soon be posted to this page, and HEP will be giving a presentation on the results to the broader HEP community in early 2013. Keep an eye out on our calendar for dates for this presentation or subscribe to our e-newsletter.


Case Studies in Sea Level Rise Planning: Final Technical Report (pdf) [3.4 MB file]


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