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Why chronic floods are coming to New Jersey

Railroads aren’t great if they’re underwater.

Sea level rise will have a profound impact on coastal infrastructure because it’s often built on cheaper, low-elevation land. As sea level rises, the systems that support the densely populated, urban areas — power generation facilities, wastewater treatment plants, and miles of transportation networks — will be at greater risk of flooding.

Significant portions of the US’s eastern coast are also sinking, due to an ancient, melting glacial ice sheet and the subsidence of its bedrock.

The video above details the impacts an accelerated rising sea level will have on the greater New York City metropolitan region.

Rutgers University climate scientist Robert Kopp said that “with a higher sea level, it requires less of a storm to produce the same amount of flooding. And the same storm will produce more flooding.”

The impact of increased floods will fall on residents who rely on low-lying infrastructure on a day-to-day basis. “Imagine if you were on a train and you had to wait for high tide to go out for the train to go through,” said Robert Freudenberg of the Regional Plan Association. “We’re facing an impending crisis of shutdown because of this connective tissue in our region in our infrastructure.”

For communities on the shore, flooding already occurs at certain high tides, even on sunny days. When the moon is full and particularly close to Earth, the tide strengthens and water rises. These tide cycles are known as “king tides.”

Carole Bradshaw/Barnegat Bay Partnership

Some residents in coastal communities document the flooding from these high tides. A variety of king tide photo initiatives have started in the past decade. You can learn more about joining one or starting your own at the King Tide Project’s website.

There are a variety of measures to prevent, adapt, or retreat the development of infrastructure in newly flood-prone areas. Groups including the Regional Plan Association have introduced ideas like the creation of a coastal commission that would coordinate climate adaptation measures. They’ve also advocated for the full-scale retreat from wetlands that will one day be reclaimed by nature.

But many experts across disciplines agree that most communities aren’t doing enough today to prepare for the negative effects of sea level rise.

“Sea level rise impacts are happening now. We’re seeing them in the East Coast in terms of increased number of these sunny-day flooding events,” says William Sweet, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “As sea levels continue to rise, the impacts are going to become deeper, more severe, more widespread. And we’re going to have to come to grips with the fact that the way we live our lives today is not going to be the same as the way we live our lives in the future.”