A slowdown in the Gulf Stream and major currents in the Atlantic Ocean could lead to up to 2 feet of sea level rise on the Jersey Shore, researchers say.

Scientists are monitoring this slowing of ocean currents, called the Atlantic Meridian Overturning Circulation or AMOC, because of the potential for future catastrophic changes to the world, such as extremely cold Western European winters and major changes in fishing markets dependent on the Atlantic. .

Responsible for warming western Europe and modulating temperatures around the world, the AMOC is unlikely to come to a complete halt in the next century, the scientists said.

However, recent research indicates that a major driver of the AMOC, the Gulf Stream, is the weakest in 1,000 years.

“This (change in ocean currents) is one factor that will cause the sea level to rise in our area, (but it is) one of two factors that will cause the sea level in our area to rise a little higher than the world average,” said Robert Kopp. , climatologist and geobiologist at Rutgers University. “What we need to be most concerned about…is just that the seas, the oceans are increasing at an accelerating rate. And we are already seeing the effects.”

Flooding of Union Avenue in Hazlet Township

Even though there’s no evidence the currents will stop soon, New Jersey’s coastal communities still need to prepare for rising sea levels, Kopp and other experts said.

“If you look at the Jersey Shore, the kind of flooding that happened once every two years in the 1950s now happens for a week or more in a typical year,” Kopp added. “A majority of this can be linked to the effects of… human-induced climate change on sea level rise.”

Slowing currents could add another foot of sea level rise on top of current sea level rise projections over the next century, Kopp said. If the AMOC shuts down completely, it could add 2 feet to sea level rise, he said.

This is in addition to Rutgers University projections predicting at least 1.3 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century, although moderate projection models predict more than 3 feet of sea level rise. water level. Worst-case modeling suggests waters could rise 5 to 8.8 feet above 2000 water levels by the end of the century, according to the university’s Climate Change Resource Center.

What won’t happen is a mid-Atlantic states freeze akin to “The Day After Tomorrow,” Kopp said, referring to the 2004 apocalyptic action film that depicted an extreme global cataclysm and fictitious resulting from the stopping of the currents of the North Atlantic.

“The AMOC is unlikely to close completely in this century… But there is evidence it could be slowing down now,” Kopp said. “Most projections indicate it will slow in a warming climate.”

Jianjun Yin, an associate professor of geosciences at the University of Arizona who studies ocean currents, sea level rise and climate change, said the AMOC appears to be vulnerable to Earth’s warming conditions. . He, like Kopp, also said slowing Atlantic currents would raise sea levels along the Jersey Shore.

“As the currents along the eastern seaboard of the United States move rapidly and northward, the waters are diverted from the coast due to the Earth’s rotation,” he said in an email. at Asbury Park Press. “As currents slow, these diversion lessons and waters accumulate along the coast, causing regional sea level rise. According to simulations and model projections, the slowing of the AMOC could lead to a additional sea level rise of about 20 centimeters (nearly 8 inches) along the mid-Atlantic during the 21st century.”

Slower currents could also cause New Jersey’s coastal waters to warm faster, Yin said.

Warm water expands relative to cold water, causing further sea level rise, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Warming could also harm the Atlantic marine ecosystem and fisheries off the Jersey Shore, Yin said.

A flood gauge is shown in 2018.

Josh Kohut, a professor of marine and coastal science at Rutgers University, said New Jersey’s recreational and commercial fishing communities benefit from the biodiversity brought to the region by ocean currents mixing along the continental shelf. State.

Along this shelf, cold New England water currents interact with the warm Atlantic Gulf Stream and sometimes swirl in long-lived water eddies or circular currents, Kohut said. These whirlpools provide nutrient-rich feeding grounds that attract New Jersey’s fish and fishing community, he said.

“It’s just a very dynamic area, because these eddies can be there. Sometimes they’re not there. It just depends on what the Gulf Stream is doing,” Kohut said.

Barnegat Light on the island of Long Beach is at risk of flooding from rising sea levels associated with climate change.

According to a 2019 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Washington, ocean gyres in the North Atlantic play an important role in aggregating plankton, attracting fish, and feeding various species of fish. sharks.

According to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization dedicated to ocean research and exploration, the boundary zones of eddies between warm and cold water are also areas of attractive feed for marine animals such as tuna, swordfish and squid.

“If the Gulf Stream were to slow down, as studies suggest, it could change how eddies form and how often they form,” Kohut said.

Morning flooding instead of snow along the waterfront near Firemen's Park in Keyport, NJ on Monday, January 3, 2022.

Amanda Oglesby is from Ocean County and covers the townships of Brick, Barnegat and Lacey as well as the environment. She has worked for the press for more than a decade. Reach her at @OglesbyAPP, [email protected] or 732-557-5701.