Earth Day 2022: NJ’s Biggest Environmental Challenges – Newsroom

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April 22, 2022

Faculty experts intervene on state environmental issues that require attention and action

Posted in: Faculty Voices, Homepage News, Science and Technology, Uncategorized

More than half a century after the first Earth Day called for changes in human activities that negatively affect our environment, our planet continues to face serious challenges. Climate change, non-biodegradable waste, and air pollution are some of the critical issues affecting people around the world, including right here in the Garden State.

We asked our science experts to share what they think are New Jersey’s most significant environmental challenges, what is being done to address them, and what we can do in the future.

We need to act faster on climate change

New Jersey’s 10 hottest years since 1895 have all come after 1990, including 2012, the hottest year New Jersey has had since records began in 1895. Environmental degradation by man continues to cause a surplus of environmental concerns not only around the world, but also here at home.

As we saw last September with Hurricane Ida, weather patterns are becoming more severe and less predictable. We are fortunate to live in a state where climate change is actively considered, and we know that change is possible, but it must happen now.

Resources are being consumed at unsustainable rates and utilized in our built environment, especially in cities. Our energy use and farming practices add to carbon emissions that create air pollution and tip the scales of greenhouse gases against us. Knowing that human activity triggers climate change, it is imperative that we move towards sustainable options to mitigate these environmental risks, even in our own neighborhoods.

The initiatives we work on at the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies show that environmental risks in New Jersey can be mitigated and that climate change is not a losing battle. For example, through our Green Teams summer program, students from multiple institutions and diverse disciplines work with host organizations across the state to tackle sustainability projects that can help right now, including vertical farms, electric transit vehicles, stormwater management, food waste reduction, upgrades for affordable housing, new clean energy storage and more.

Everyone has something to contribute; we must all work together to achieve a sustainable future.

– Hailey Spinks and Amy Tuininga, PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies

Cyanobacteria are harming our New Jersey waters, wildlife and us

While phytoplankton plays an important role in a balanced ecosystem, too much of a good thing has proven dangerous in New Jersey and many other places. A harmful algal bloom (HAB) is the rapid growth of cyanobacteria in a body of water, resulting in the production of toxins that have harmful and fatal effects on humans, pets, and wildlife. HABs can also negatively impact aquatic ecosystems by altering water chemistry and reducing dissolved oxygen levels, leading to fish kill incidents.

The presence of HABs has resulted in beach closures and advisories against swimming, fishing or boating across the state. In response to growing concern, the New Jersey Center for Water Science and Technology at Montclair is helping protect our precious water resources by housing a certified lab that tests water for cyanotoxins.

The Center also offers a visual guide for the public to identify common freshwater cyanobacteria and hosts a “Roaming HAB Lab”, a mobile education program that offers on-site discovery activities to educate the general public about the HAB and how to take action to reduce water pollution and future blooms.

– Meiyin Wu, professor of biology and director of the New Jersey Center for Water Science and Technology

New Jersey will experience more droughts and floods

One of the impacts of climate change on New Jersey will be more droughts and more floods. It may seem confusing because one is too little water and the other is too much, but we plan to experience both.

Droughts have various causes, but with more variable future weather patterns and increased temperatures and evaporation, our water supplies will become more stressed and there will be times when available water will be limited.

Conversely, warmer air can hold more water vapor, causing more precipitation. This, combined with stronger hurricanes, a longer hurricane season and rising sea levels, will lead to more flooding in rivers and coastal areas.

– Joshua Galster, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Studies

Wildfires will become more frequent in New Jersey and beyond

Wildfires are one of many threats that are a byproduct of climate change. Rising temperatures and drought contribute to dry, stressed vegetation, which ignites more easily. Yes, many ecosystems are accustomed to periodic, natural, low-intensity fires, including grasslands, mountain forests, or New Jersey’s Pine Barrens – but these fires are expected and can benefit an ecosystem. Climate change is making the situation worse, with fires occurring more frequently or more severely, leading to a number of consequences: long-term damage to an ecosystem and impact on human health, infrastructure and natural resources.

With increasing human settlements in once wild areas (such as hill stations, growing suburbs, or areas of mining and logging), fires pose an increasing risk. We have seen increasing reports of catastrophic fires over the past few years, in the western United States, Australia and the Amazon. Of course, New Jersey and its neighboring states are not immune. My colleagues and I are investigating recent fires in the mountains of New Jersey and Pennsylvania; these may become more frequent or severe if drought conditions reoccur. Even distant fires impact New Jersey, like the bad air pollution we experienced last summer from smoke from fires in Canada and the Northwest.

Ecosystems eventually adapt to new fire regimes, but this happens over hundreds of years. Human society cannot wait for this resilience, so it is in our interest to mitigate as best we can the inevitable effects of climate change and to carefully plan for these dangers.

– Greg Pope, Chair and Professor, Earth and Environmental Studies

To speak to an expert, contact the Media Relations team.

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