Greenhouse Effect, Sea Level Rise, and Barrier Islands: Case Study of Long Beach Island, New Jersey
By James G. Titus
Greenhouse Effect, Sea Level Rise, and Barrier Islands: Case Study of Long Beach Island, New Jersey (PDF, 21 pp., 1.2 MB) was originally published in Coastal Management, 18:65-90 (1990). The report's Abstract and Introduction are available below. For faster viewing Sea Level Rise and Barrier Islands is also available as an html document
For additional reports focused on the implications of rising sea level, go to More Sea Level Rise Reports.
Increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other gases are expected to cause a global warming that could raise sea level a few feet in the next century. This paper examines four options by which barrier-island communities could respond, focussing on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. For the next few decades, the most common response will probably be to raise the islands in place by pumping sand onto beaches and building lots. Eventually, as costs increase, many communities may accept a gradual landward retreat. Nevertheless, federal agencies that encourage risky development, state agencies that discourage it, residents who feel entitled to subsidized coastal protection, and environmentalists insensitive to constitutional property rights will all have to compromise for a rational solution to be possible. Local officials on barrier islands should begin to hold public meetings to develop a public consensus on the appropriate response to sea level rise.
In the last three decades, the barrier islands of the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts have been transformed from tranquil fishing villages to thriving recreational centers hosting millions of visitors each weekend. With a cool sea breeze and a view of the water, an ocean beach for surfing and sun bathing, a back bay for sailing, skiing, and swimming, and sport fishing in both ocean and bay, barrier islands have something for everybody.
The water that makes these islands desireable, however, also places them at risk. The beautiful homes with their oceanfront views are vulnerable both to storms, which can destroy houses not elevated on pilings, and erosion, which can leave a house standing in the water regardless of its construction. The back bays limit people's ability to escape these problems by simply retreating landward, and during storms they sometimes breach the islands, forming inlets.
These risks could become more severe in the coming decades. The expected global warming from the greenhouse effect is likely to raise sea level a few feet in the next one hundred years and may increase the frequency of severe storms as well. Newspapers and Congressmen from coastal states have pointed out that entire barrier islands would be threatened. Coastal geologists, on the other hand, have expressed the concern that if coastal towns armor their shorelines, they will eventually lose their beaches. Less attention, however, has been paid to two other options which will probably be more typical of recreational barrier islands: (1) raising islands in place, and (2) helping islands to migrate landward.
In this article, we discuss the likely impacts of future sea level rise on developed barrier islands, focusing on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, as an example. After summarizing previous studies, we present four possible responses; estimate the cost of implementing each of these responses on Long Beach Island; examine the implications for other islands; and discuss whether future sea level rise warrants immediate action.
Greenhouse Effect, Sea Level Rise, and Barrier Islands: Case Study of Long Beach Island, New Jersey (PDF, 21 pp., 1.2 MB) was originally published in Coastal Management, 18:65-90 (1990).