New Jersey is warming faster than other Northeastern states, with average temperatures rising 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the fossil fuel era began in the 1880s, and heatwaves will get more numerous and frequent, according to the state’s first assessment of climate change.

Other key findings from the report compiled by the Department of Environmental Protection:

  • Historically unprecedented warming is projected with average annual temperatures increasing between 4.1 and 5.7 degrees by 2050.
  • Heatwaves are expected to affect larger areas, with more frequency and longer duration by mid-century.
  • Climate change could result in a 55% increase in summer heat-related deaths.
  • Annual precipitation is expected to increase between 4% and 11% by 2050.
  • Sea levels are rising at a greater rate in New Jersey than other parts of the world.
  • Atlantic City could experience nearly year-round “sunny day flooding” during high tides by 2100.

“As New Jerseyans know too well, the impacts of climate change threaten our property, public health, safety, and can wreak long-lasting damage to our economy,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement.

DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe said that while most people know the changes are underway, “it is urgent that New Jerseyans understand what future impacts are likely to occur, and when,” so they can adapt and plan.

Average New Jersey temperature has increased since 1895.
Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist; NOAA
Average New Jersey temperature has increased since 1895.

The 2020 New Jersey Scientific Report on Climate Change says that as carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases increase in the atmosphere, the state will also experience both direct and secondary changes, including frequency and intensity of storms, ocean acidification, and other impacts to the state’s ecology.

For example, CO2 dissolves in seawater, causing chain reactions that lead to more acidic conditions. Since the industrial age began in the late 1800s, the ocean is 30% more acidic. If CO2 emissions continue at current rates, the ocean could become more acidic than it has been in 20 million years.

Continued acidification could harm many marine organisms. Some species will build weaker shells, making them more vulnerable to predators and water conditions. South Jersey counties rank second in the United States in economic dependence on shelled mollusks, an industry that could suffer from the changes.

The report pulls from a lot of previous research, already made public, including some by Robert Kopp, director of the Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. Kopp was also involved in another alarming report issued this week, the First Street Foundation’s first National Flood Risk Assessment, which said New Jersey faces some of the highest risks in the nation for flooded properties over the next 30 years.

Additionally, sea levels in New Jersey are rising faster than the global average due to changes in the Gulf Stream, and land that is gradually shrinking because of geologic influences stemming from the last ice age.

Monthly average sea level trend for Atlantic City.
NOAA Sea Level Rise Trends; NJ DEP
Monthly average sea level trend for Atlantic City.

The report’s authors note that greenhouse gases, such as methane and CO2, are natural and essential to supporting life. But, current greenhouse gas concentrations from human emissions are so far above natural levels that they have become the chief driver of accelerated climate change.

Scientists have reconstructed a record of atmospheric CO2 reaching back 800,000 years using ice cores drilled in Antarctica.

For thousands of years CO2 did not exceed 300 parts per million. At the start of the Industrial Revolution more than two centuries ago, CO2 levels were about 280 ppm.

New Jersey statewide precipitation data dating back to 1895 shows an upward trend.
Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist; NOAA
New Jersey statewide precipitation data dating back to 1895 shows an upward trend.

Average annual CO2 levels exceeded 400 ppm for the first time in 2016 and continued to rise through 2019 when levels reached 411 ppm. The result: Global CO2 emissions are the main driver of human-caused climate change.

From 1950 to 2007, the U.S. was the world’s largest producer of CO2 emissions, with motor vehicles accounting for the biggest amount. But the report found that the transition from coal-fired power plants to natural gas has led to a reduction in greenhouse gases in the U.S. Plus, the nation has increased forested areas that act as “carbon sinks” by storing CO2.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said the report suggests that “climate change is happening faster and is more devastating to New Jersey than first realized,” and should prompt “immediate action” including creation of a cabinet-level committee to coordinate action to reduce greenhouse gases.

He said the Murphy administration needs new rules and regulations to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

New Jersey has a plan to transition to 100% “clean energy” by 2050, has joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative of 10 states committed to cutting carbon emissions, has launched an incentive for residents to buy electric vehicles, and has a plan for offshore windpower and a 200-acre seaport to support the offshore wind industry.

Officials plan to follow with a report in the fall for an overall plan for climate change.