Heavy Rains to Become Heavier & More Frequent

April 6, 2019

SEEKING LOCAL SOLUTIONS TO A GLOBAL PROBLEM

Blackwells Mills Bridgetender's station flooded during heavy rain. 

 

Get used to weather forecasts predicting heavy rain. 

 

The record-breaking amount of rain that walloped the Garden State in 2018 is likely here to stay, according to Rutgers Professor Anthony J. Broccoli, who presented compelling scientific evidence to illustrate why Montgomery and the rest of the state must prepare for a rainier future.

 

Broccoli discussed Climate Change Impacts on New Jersey with an audience of about 12 people who gathered on a Tuesday evening in March at the Mary Jacobs Library. 

 

Pretty much every reputable scientist in the world has presented evidence that burning fossil fuels has caused a humongous spike in carbon dioxide levels on the planet, which is warming the earth. 

 

New Jersey’s contribution to climate change is primarily in the form of motor vehicle exhaust fumes, Broccoli said. (See photo on left).

 

In addition to a long-term upward trend of hotter temperates in NJ (+2.8 degrees F in 100 years) with 2012 being the warmest year on record, the climate is changing to include much more rain.

 

The change is happening in a slow but consistent way — at the speed of the growth of a fingernail. It is just off the radar of top concerns in most people’s day-to-day life.

 

“It’s like going to a high school reunion,” Broccoli says. “Over the years, our classmates change, and we change. But, when we look in the mirror, we don’t appear to change much from day-to-day. It is only at the reunion that we realize exactly how much we have all changed.”

 

Data collected in NJ since 1900 shows:

— Local sea level has increased by 1.5 feet. Sea level is rising faster in NJ than the global average because of land is sinking.

 

— A statewide average of 64.09 inches of precipitation in 2018, which is more than any year since record keeping began in 1895.

 

“We are already experiencing changes in climate,” said Broccoli, who is co-director of Rutgers University’s Climate Institute. “There is no realistic scenario in which future changes can be completely avoided.”

 

It is a symptom of the tons of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, that people are pumping to the atmosphere. These gases reflect sunlight back to earth rather than allowing it to dissipate into space. Hurricanes Sandy and Irene slammed the state, causing unprecedented flooding and power outages that lasted for weeks.

 

“Over the next few decades, we can expect to see more heavy rain and extreme weather events (northeasters, hurricanes), as well as inexorably rising sea levels,” Broccoli says. While the complete extinction of the human race is unlikely, something needs to be done now. There are some course corrections locals can make now, or there will be extraordinary science-fiction type fixes that may need to be tried later.

 

Broccoli organizes his options for dealing with climate change into three categories:

— Mitigation (Efforts to reduce or prevent the emission of greenhouse gas).

 

— Adaptation (Planning for the changes in climate that are expected to occur by taking action to avoid the adverse impact.)

 

— Geoengineering (Deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract human-caused climate change.)

 

Ideas once thought of as wacky are now receiving careful consideration for example: “cooling the earth by launching reflective mirrors into space.”

Photo caption:  An example of space-based reflectors that would bounce sunlight alway from the Earth to reduce global warming.

 

But the option of having a constellation of billions of mirrors free-floating between the Earth and sun to block solar radiation, thereby cooling the Earth from global warming, is also scary. And, which country would be responsible for designing and launching the space mirrors? If countries become on bad terms, would one block too much sunlight from another’s corner of the world?

 

Also, if the shields positioned in space to deflect sunlight back into space, would the sun’s rays do damage elsewhere in the universe?

 

It seems countries cannot even agree on tariffs and immigration, so how will global leaders ever agree on positioning and operating shields in space?

 

Another “option” would be to alter upper-atmospheric composition. 

Photo caption: Tethered balloon used to inject sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to reduce global warming. (Source: Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE) UK)

 

Delivery of precursor sulfide gases such as sulfuric acid, hydrogen sulfide or sulfur dioxide by artillery, aircraft, or balloons has been proposed. It presently appears that this method could counter most climatic changes, take effect rapidly, have very low direct implementation costs, and be reversible in its direct climatic effects; although other effects are possible. Other options presented by Broccoli include: Carbon Dioxide removal via a terrestrial biosphere; modifying cloud properties; and using engineered systems. One thing was clear: it would be much easier to act now to “mitigate” the effects of carbon dioxide on the environment rather than being forced to use complex, space-age solutions later.

 

As co-director of the Rutgers Climate Change Institute, Broccoli studies how changing land use in New Jersey — for example, increased urbanization — will affect sea breezes, wetlands ecology, peak summer temperatures, and rainfall. “What the future holds depends on how leaders react now,” Broccoli says.

 

Examples of carbon dioxide emissions reductions that should be enacted now include:

— Energy efficiency

— Fuel switching

— Carbon capture & storage

— Solar electricity

— Wind electricity

— Biofuels

— Natural sinks

 

In addition, people will need to prepare for increased storms and floods, and also for increases in sea levels that will last for many lifetimes. “The sea level is raising about four millimeters per year,” Broccoli said. “It has already increased one and a half feet over the past 100 years.”

 

Necessary adaptation strategies include:

— Expanding flood zones (such as around the rivers that run through and along Montgomery and Rocky Hill, including: Millstone River, Pike Run, Bedens Brook, Stony Brook).

— Increasing the capacity of storm water drainage systems

— Raising residential buildings (this is happening now in coastal areas)

— Raising outflows of wastewater (sewage) treatment plants

— Enacting warning systems to reduce exposure to extreme heat, including cooling stations for people without air conditioning. ■

 

Read “Ways to Adapt to New Jersey’s New Climate” to learn more about local adaptation methods.

 

Also: Get involved in being part of the solution by visiting the NJ Climate Adaptation Alliance.

 

 

 

 

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