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Coastal Hazards of New Jersey: Now and with a Changing Climate


photoThe Office of Coastal Management (OCM) completed the development of two CZMA section 309 funded products under the Coastal Hazards issue area. The first is a Coastal Community Vulnerability Assessment Protocol (CCVAP), which is intended to be a mapping tool that allows communities to assess their geographic, environmental and social vulnerability to the impacts of storm surge and sea level rise. The CCVAP will use current information to provide coastal communities with a characterization of the vulnerability of their community (the built environment, public health and safety, natural resources and economy) to coastal hazards. The CCVAP can help communities plan for the impacts of storm events as well as the future impacts of sea level rise.

In conjunction with the CCVAP the OCM also developed the Getting to Resilience Questionnaire (GTR). A questionnaire designed to assist local governments characterize their existing municipal plans and identify opportunities to respond to the impacts of coastal hazards, storm surge and sea level rise. Additionally the GTR will assist coastal communities identify existing and develop new strategies to make their communities more resilient and better able to rebound from the adverse impacts of storm events. When used in conjunction with the CCVAP the GTR Questionnaire draws on the existing plans and strengths of coastal communities and encourages them to be better prepared to respond to the impacts of hazards and to be more pro-active in their planning of infrastructure improvements.

The OCM partnered with the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium and others through the National Sea Grant Coastal Communities Climate Adaptation Initiative to pilot the CCVAP and the GTR in four coastal communities in New Jersey. The final reports for the pilot projects are provided below. Also provided is the Getting to Resilience (GTR) Questionnaire and link to the NOAA, Coastal Services Newsletter article featuring these products -


By virtue of their location at the interface between oceans and land, coastal areas are among the most dynamic environments on earth. Consequently, they are particularly susceptible to a broad range of natural hazards. Many parts of New Jersey's densely populated coast are highly vulnerable to the effects of flooding, storm surge, episodic erosion, chronic erosion, sea level rise, and extra-tropical storms. Hurricanes also pose a substantial threat to the state's coastal area.

Manifestations of these hazards occur at broadly different rates. Their expression ranges from the gradual, such as sea level rise and chronic erosion that can be measured on a decadal time-scale, to catastrophic events like hurricanes, extra-tropical storms, and storm surges that can be measured in terms of days or even hours. Just as their rates of occurrence differ, so are their effects expressed in profoundly different ways.


Catastrophic events alter the natural features of the shoreline, such as beaches, dunes, and wetlands, and threaten people and property. In New Jersey, construction of new residential development, reconstruction of existing residential development, and the conversion of single family dwellings into multi-unit dwellings continue in hazardous areas. Although application of more stringent construction standards and techniques results in more storm-resistant structures, the value of property at risk has appreciably increased. With anticipated accelerating sea level rise and increasing storm frequency and intensity, vulnerability to the risks of coastal hazards will be exacerbated and the costs of damages and losses resulting from the events will increase. Catastrophic events require anticipatory preparations for the inevitability of an event, the capacity for rapid response to an imminent threat of an event, and preparation for addressing the aftermath of an event.


photoThe effects of gradually occurring phenomena are more predictable and allow for long-range planning and measured preparation. On-going data collection, research, and modeling continue to refine our knowledge concerning the effects of climate change on the expression of phenomena that are regarded as coastal hazards. The U.S. Geological Survey evaluated the vulnerability of the mid-Atlantic region to the effects of sea level rise. The results of the study are presented in the report, Potential for Shoreline Changes Due to Sea-Level Rise Along the U.S. Mid-Atlantic Region. The USGS study indicates that most of New Jersey's coast is highly susceptible to the effects of sea level rise.


While the precise rate of sea level rise is uncertain, current models indicate that climate change will cause the rate to increase. Based on the trend of sea level rise from 1961 through 2003, sea level would rise by almost 6-inches by the end of this century in the absence of any effects of climate change. Taking climate change into account, sea level is projected to rise between 7 and 21 inches by 2100. This increase would result in the threat of more sustained extreme storm surges, increased coastal erosion, escalating inundation of coastal wetlands and saline intrusion. The Grant F. Walton Center for Remote Sensing & Spatial Analysis at Rutgers University, in partnership with the American Littoral Society examined the potential effects of sea level rise on coastal habitats. The results of their study is presented in the report Vulnerability of New Jersey's Coastal Habitats to Sea Level Rise.


Coastal wetlands buffer uplands from chronic and episodic erosion caused by wave action. Conserving areas that allow for the landward migration of coastal wetlands in response to sea level rise is an example of a step that can be taken to enable the persistence of this valuable and productive feature of our coast.

New Jersey's Coastal Management Program in concert with other State programs, as well as federal and local agencies, and non-profit organizations is proceeding on many fronts to reduce the societal, economic, and environmental risks associated with coastal hazards. The Coastal Management Program is collecting information that will be used to determine the relative vulnerability of coastal areas to natural hazards. Part of this effort involves examining the factors that are conducive to the landward migration of coastal wetlands, the development of pioneering coastal wetlands along open water areas and the transformation of freshwater wetlands to tidal wetlands.


Several agencies, organizations, and academic institutions have addressed the potential effects of climate change on New Jersey and its coast. The New Jersey Sustainability and Green Energy Web site provides information regarding the State's initiatives regarding climate change. The Union of Concerned Scientists prepared an overview of how climate change may affect New Jersey including the state's coastal area. The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University examined the potential effects of climate induced accelerated sea level rise on the New Jersey coast.


New Jersey Sea Grant College Program prepared a thorough manual that provides valuable guidance for addressing coastal hazards. The Manual for Coastal Hazard Mitigation* (PDF) is,"... intended to serve as a resource for individuals, and federal, state, and local officials with which to form the basis of informed coastal hazard mitigation decisions."

Another important resource that provides strategies for coping with coastal hazards is the, No Adverse Impact in the Coastal Zone, prepared by the Association of State Floodplain Managers and NOAA. "…no Adverse Impact floodplain management provides vision, principles, and tools through which a private owner, a local community, or a number of adjoining communities can effectively and permanently manage land within a region."

Preparing for Climate Change: A Guidebook for Local, Regional, and State Governments, provides a process designed to guide regions and communities in preparing for the effects of climate change. In addition, The Heinz Center has prepared a report on human vulnerability to coastal disasters.


The following links to additional resources should be of value to coastal officials, coastal residents and others. We invite you to explore these resources and believe that you will find them informative and useful.

Products provided by NOAA Coastal Services Center:

*Manual for Coastal Hazard Mitigation, compiled by Thomas O. Herrington, Ph. D for the New Jersey Sea Grant College Program. The New Jersey Coastal Management Program sincerely thanks Dr. Herrington and the NJ Sea Grant College Program for allowing us to provide the this thorough reference on our website. The Coastal Management Program also acknowledges the contributions of both the NJ Marine Sciences Consortium and Stevens-New Jersey Cooperative Extension in Coastal Processes in enabling the preparation of this manual.

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