Vulnerability of New Jersey's Coastal Habitats to Sea Level Rise

2006 Aerial Photography of NJ Coast


Sea level rise is a well documented physical reality that is impacting New Jersey’s coastline.  The recent historical levels of sea level rise along the New Jersey coast is generally thought to be about 3-4 mm/yr, while predicted future rates are expected to increase to 6 mm/yr (Cooper et al., 2005; Psuty and Ofiara, 2002).   The hazards posed by sea level rise and severe coastal storms has instigated a number of studies examining the issue here in New Jersey as well as elsewhere in the Mid-Atlantic region (Cooper et al., 2005; Psuty and Ofiara, 2002; Gornitz et al., 2002; Rosenwieg and Solecki, 2001; Field et al., 2000; Najjar et al., 2000).  The developed nature of New Jersey’s coastline makes it vulnerable to flooding and inundation and cause for concern by both government officials and the public alike. 

In this report, we revisit the issue of sea level rise and its potential impact to New Jerseys’ coastal development and ecosystems.   Increasingly it is being recognized that engineered shoreline stabilization (sometimes labeled “hard” approaches) is expensive and ultimately only a short term solution.  Instead, flexible adaptation strategies (sometimes labeled “soft” approaches) that recognize and plan for the dynamic nature of our coastlines are being promoted (Psuty and Ofiara, 2002; Field, 2000).   In this light, we undertook a geographic information system-based approach to identify vulnerable development and where this development is constricting the natural dynamics of coastline migration. This study was part of a broader assessment of New Jersey’s coastal environmental resources conducted by the Walton Center for Remote Sensing & Spatial Analysis (CRSSA) of Rutgers University and the American Littoral Society.  The objective of the New Jersey Coastal Assessment was to compile and synthesize a diversity of mapped information to provide a fuller picture of New Jersey’s coastal resources and habitats to assist in land and conservation planning. 


We did not set out to do a comprehensive study on the impact of sea level rise on New Jersey’s coastal zone but rather focus on several components that pertain to the long term sustainability of coastal habitats.  Our study expands upon the recent work of Cooper et al. (2005) to more closely examine vulnerable development and where this development is constricting the natural dynamics of coastline migration. In this report, we examine six specific issues related to coastal vulnerability and future adaptability:

  • to map near shore development;
  • to map the land use/land cover that is vulnerable to tidal surge inundation and flooding;
  • to map the distance from coastal waters to the first developed obstruction (i.e. how far removed is existing development from the surging coastal waters);
  • to map the degree of shoreline alteration due to coastal protection structures;
  • to map where coastal beach and dune habitats are relatively undisturbed; and
  • delineate those portions of our coastal wetland complex that are free to retreat inland as part of the natural landward migration process (i.e., where are coastal wetlands bordered by undeveloped vs. developed uplands). 

For more information please read the final report (link under 'REPORT').


Rick Lathrop
Director, Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis (CRSSA)

Grant F. Walton Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis (CRSSA)
School of Environmental and Biological Sciences
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
14 College Farm Road, Cook Campus
New Brunswick, NJ USA 08901-8551
Tel: 732/932-1582
Fax: 732/932-2587

A special thanks go out to Tim Dillingham of the American Littoral Society, Highlands, New Jersey for providing the initial impetus for this project, as well as funding.

Web site composed by the Grant F. Walton Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis (CRSSA), © 2007. Page contents last updated 01/23/2007.