Jersey Shore underwater? Detailed maps project future of rising tides

"Sea level is going to keep rising no matter what we do," said Dr. Stewart Farrell.

ByBrian Taff and Heather Grubola WPVI logo
Thursday, November 25, 2021
Jersey Shore underwater? Detailed maps project future of rising tide
"Well, there are places that are going to have to leave," said Dr. Stewart Farrell, who's been studying the impacts of climate change at the Jersey Shore.

GALLOWAY TWP., New Jersey (WPVI) -- Dr. Stewart Farrell works in his outdoor office tucked away at the waterfront outpost of Stockton University.

Since 1985, he has worked there as a kind of pioneer of an unsettling science.

"Sea level is going to keep rising no matter what we do," he said.

Dr. Farrell has painstakingly surveyed New Jersey's coast from Sandy Hook up north to Cape May Point down south, drawing detailed maps that track the ongoing battle between the ocean and the land.

A progression of those maps proves that land is not the one winning.

Since 1985, Dr. Stewart Farrell has been studying the effects of climate change at the Jersey Shore.

"It has been very interesting in terms of changes to the coastal oceanfront," he said.

At the heart of his work: arming local officials with a snapshot of the future so they can plan for the rising tide.

Using an array of cutting-edge technology, Dr. Farrell and his team can now show street by street, block by block what the Jersey Shore will look like if human behavior doesn't change.

"Our use of fossil fuels and expelling carbon dioxide, and other things like methane into the atmosphere, we're facing a really big crisis when our grandchildren -- now two years old -- are in their 70s," he explained.

Climate and coastal scientists agree by 2100 the water will likely be between four and six feet higher than it is today.

"If your land is less than five feet above sea level today, you're facing a problem," Farrell said.

Atlantic City sea level projections by 2100.

Some of the towns affected are Cape May City, the Wildwoods, Avalon, Stone Harbor and Atlantic City.

For example, the Venice Park section of Atlantic City, which is a couple of miles from the ocean situated on the bay, is projected to be under several feet of water, twice a day, every day. As with so many places, the question here is how to fight back against that fate?

"Yes, we can. It just takes money and the dedication to do it," said Dr. Farrell.

And, he says, it also takes a real understanding of the options.

One option: dike the land, which means building a seawall around it and pumping out any water that seeps in as the Dutch did in the Netherlands.

"The other proposition is elevation. Raise everything up by bringing in fill," he said.

Both of those are expensive options but perhaps not the most sentimentally costly.

Brian Taff interviews the executive director of the Stockton Coastal Research Center about the rising tide at the Jersey Shore.

The third option? Residents might have to leave, Farrell says.

His hope is to limit the number that do leave by sharing pictures of their predicament and urging residents to prepare.