A Rutgers-led report details 2023 climate trends for New Jersey

Canadian wildfires that severely impacted the air quality in New Jersey and other regions of the United States in June 2023 provide a glimpse into how climate change may affect future environmental conditions in the state, according to a new report released by researchers at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

The report, The State of the Climate: New Jersey 2023, illustrates the unique challenges global climate change presents to residents of the state and details specific New Jersey climate trends, Rutgers scientists said. The report also synthesizes analyses and projections from across the climate change field.

“The Canadian wildfire event demonstrated the linkages between climate change  ̶  which exacerbates events like wildfires that can occur hundreds of miles away  ̶  and the health impacts here in New Jersey,” said James Shope, an applied climatologist with the Department of Environmental Sciences and the New Jersey Climate Change Resource Center at Rutgers and a coauthor of the report. “The event also serves as a harbinger of how climate change may affect future wildfire potential and air quality in the Garden State.”

Shope said the yearly report provides an updated resource for how climate change hazards can affect human health, ecosystems and agricultural production in New Jersey.

“Climate change has increased temperature extremes, sea level and rainfall intensity within New Jersey,” Shope said. “These changes are projected to continue to have downstream effects for everything from agriculture to public health.”

By the end of the century, with moderate levels of greenhouse gas emissions, annual temperatures are projected to increase 4 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit above the average temperature levels that were seen between 1991 and 2010, according to the report. If high carbon emissions continue, annual temperatures will increase by between 7 and 12 degrees Fahrenheit, raising the likelihood of heat waves and heat-related illness for New Jersey’s citizens.

 “2023 was the third warmest year on record in New Jersey,” said study coauthor David Robinson, a distinguished professor in the Department of Geography in the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences and the state climatologist. “Our annual temperatures have increased by about 4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900, roughly twice the global average.”

As projected temperatures throughout the northeast United States are expected to increase and summer rainfall is projected to remain relatively unchanged, the frequency and magnitude of future summer drought conditions are likely to increase, the scientists said. These conditions are expected to increase the scale and intensity of local wildfires, they added.

The report pointed to other coming changes. Sea levels have risen by about 1.6 feet in Atlantic City since the early 1900s. By 2100, with moderate greenhouse gas emissions, sea levels are projected to rise between 2-5.1 feet compared with the year 2000 baseline. As a result, by 2100 residents will experience more destructive coastal storms and increasing numbers of “sunny day” flooding – flooding at high tide even without a storm – in tidal areas most of the year during high tide.

The Rutgers New Jersey Climate Change Resource Center led the production of the report in partnership with the Rutgers Climate and Energy Institute and the Office of the New Jersey Climatologist, with the support of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. This is the fourth such report produced by Rutgers, and the third led by the resource center.

The New Jersey Climate Change Resource Center was created by statute in 2020 to address climate change issues in the state by providing actionable science, planning tools and technical guidance to policymakers, practitioners and communities.