New Jerseyans can expect hotter summers, higher sea levels and torrential downpours in the coming decades, according to a new climate change report from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Scientists say sea levels are likely to rise nearly 1½ feet over the next 30 years, an amount that will exacerbate storm surges and already problematic high tide flooding, according to the DEP findings out Tuesday.
Flooding will also become more common, because rain is predicted to happen in more severe bursts than in the past, the report said.
The culprit identified by researchers is the same as set forth in a host of other studies: increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, which has already pushed up New Jersey's temperatures about 3.5 degrees in the past 125 years.
"We're warming. There's no doubt about it," said Nick Procopio, chief of the DEP's Bureau of Environmental Assessment.
DEP officials said the new report lays a scientific foundation for policy changes yet to come, state rules that will likely shape future construction, particularly along the coast and in flood-prone areas.
Scientists say sea level rise is likely to make fair weather flooding more common in New Jersey.
The latest report compiles science about climate-related threats facing the Garden State through 2100, from potentially deadly heat waves, to changing coastal ecosystems, to financial loss for farmers.
It includes stark warnings and calls for robust action.
"Climate change is here. It is now. And we must plan and act with urgency," said Shawn LaTourette, chief of staff to DEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe.
LaTourette said the new report will help future planning in New Jersey, policy formation and even investment in infrastructure.
"Let's not be ignorant of the future. Let's not bury our heads in the sand," he said. "Let's be informed and let's act with care."
Experts say New Jersey's climate will continue to heat up and heatwaves will become more common.
Urban areas are likely to feel impacts of these heatwaves most acutely, due to asphalt and concrete retaining heat better than trees and forests. As a result, deaths from heat-related causes could rise 55%, according to the DEP report.
Yet rural areas will not be spared the impacts of climate change. Farmers may find heat strains crops and that they need more energy and more water for their operations, according to the report.
Scientists worry that New Jersey's warming climate may make cranberry farming more difficult over the coming decades.
Dave Rosenblatt, the DEP's chief resilience officer, said sectors across New Jersey will be affected by the changes.
"The ways that we regulate from an environmental perspective ... is inherently backward looking," said LaTourette. "We need to change the paradigm, because the future we face is very different (from the past)."
LaTourette said many of New Jersey's current environmental regulations are based on decades-old data.
"It (old environmental regulation) isn't going to serve us when the world is changing, when our environment is changing around us," he said. "It's just about being smart. Not restrictive -- smart."
Some of the key points in the new DEP report are:
Sea levels along the coast could rise as much as 5 feet by the end of the century.
Ocean acidification due to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide could damage shelled mollusks and the South Jersey industries that depend on them.
New Jersey's climate may become unsuitable for specialty crops like cranberries and blueberries.
Wildfire season could lengthen and the frequency of wildfires could increase with warming climate conditions.
Sea level rise is likely to overtake many saltwater marsh areas and destroy habitat for species of birds and other marine life.
Changing coastal conditions could lead to shellfish losses but increases in animals like stinging jellyfish.
The DEP is expected to release a climate change strategy report in September that will be based on Tuesday's climate report and make recommendations for policymakers. The strategy report will include a section on bolstering coastal resilience to storms and sea level rise, Rosenblatt said.
Scientists say ocean acidification from climate change could damage New Jersey's shellfish industries.
"There are people who have not been paying attention," said LaTourette. "We want to make sure that we provide a summary of information sponsored by the Department of Environmental Protection that people can go to and see what's happening in the state.