‘A storm that occurred once in seven generations is now occurring twice in a generation …’
As Hurricane Joaquin winds up, potentially taking aim at the Eastern Seaboard, researchers are warning that the flood risk in New York City and New Jersey has grown considerably in the last 1,000 years.
When the climate researchers compared both sea-level rise rates and storm surge heights in prehistoric and modern eras, they found that the combined increases of each have raised the likelihood of a devastating 500-year flood occurring as often as every 25 years.The study was conducted by researchers with Penn State University, Rutgers University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University and Tufts University and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“A storm that occurred once in seven generations is now occurring twice in a generation,” said Benjamin Horton, a Rutgers marine and coastal sciences professor. Horton also is the principal investigator on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Science Foundation grants funding the research.
Flooding heights increased 1.2 meters from the prehistoric era to the modern era, mainly due to rising sea level, the researchers found after showing the rate of sea level rise starting in A.D 850. Since the late 19th century sea level has risen at its steepest rate for more than 1,000 years.
Climate scientists have established that two types of storms cause the most damage – big, slow-moving storms and smaller but higher-intensity storms – and this study found that both have significantly increased in the modern era. “What we do know is that as sea level rise accelerates into the future, we are going to have more frequent flooding,” Horton said.
“The increasing flood risk projected for the coming decades presents a hazard to New York City’s and New Jersey’s intense concentrations of population, economic production, and static infrastructure, and indicates the necessity for risk management solutions,” Horton said.
As sea levels continue to rise at an accelerated pace, the risk of coastal flooding will rise as well. That’s why the next phase of this research, led by doctoral candidate Andra Reed at Penn State University, will use the data gathered to make models to predict future sea levels and hurricane activity and when major storms like Hurricane Sandy will strike.
“We need to do this so we can provide better information to residents of New York and New Jersey and to policymakers, insurance industries and the states to prepare for how often an event as severe as Hurricane Sandy will occur,” Horton said.