NJSGC Researcher Published In Journal of Extreme Events for Study on Economic Vulnerability to Climate Change in Coastal New Jersey

July 21st, 2014

An article based on Dr. Robin Leichenko’s New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium (NJSGC)-funded research project, Economic Vulnerability to Climate Change in Coastal New Jersey: A Stakeholder-Based Assessment, was recently published in the premier issue of the Journal of Extreme Events, published by World Scientific. The project is investigating economic vulnerabilities to climate extremes and climate change in coastal New Jersey before and after Superstorm Sandy and uses a stakeholder-based approach to identify key climate-related economic stresses, risks, and vulnerabilities.

Every two years, NJSGC awards approximately four research grants using a rigorous and competitive, peer-reviewed process.  Dr. Leichenko’s project was funded during the 2012 -14 cycle andhas primarily focused on Ocean County, New Jersey and the Barnegat Bay region specifically. “Ocean County was a great site for this type of study because it is very representative of the climate challenges facing coastal New Jersey and other coastal areas in the U.S. Northeast,” said Leichenko. “It has a large and growing population, and it is facing all kinds of development pressures associated with being close to very large urban areas (metro New York and metro Philadelphia), yet it also has a long history of resource-based activities like fishing and agriculture, not to mention a thriving summer tourism and second-home industry.”

In terms of research findings, Leichenko said major new data that was presented in the article was the result of interviews with local stakeholders and decision makers. “We asked them [stakeholders] to identify key climatic and non-climatic stresses in the region, key economic vulnerabilities and adaptation options. We also gained detailed information about economic assets, activities and populations at risk. Although we knew beforehand that sectors like tourism were vulnerable to coastal storms, the vulnerability information that came out in the interviews was much more granular, such as vulnerability of small tourism businesses, county parks, and middle income residents to inland flooding, storms and sea level rise.”

Leichenko said her research team also gained a lot of insight from their interviews into the challenges for promoting adaptation and building climate resilience in the region. The research team, including Dr. Melanie McDermott and Dr. Leichenko’s students Ekaterina Bezborodko, Michael Brady and Erik Namendorf, is currently working on a paper that will describe the findings on resilience opportunities and barriers.  Incorporation of students in NJSGC research-funded projects is a required component of NJSGC research and helps the Consortium achieve its outcome of developing strong future researchers, managers and decision makers.

“I think the main value of this study is that it provides a template for other researchers who are trying to understand local perspectives on key climate change vulnerabilities, adaptation options, and opportunities and challenges for building resilience,” continued Leichenko. “For adaptation efforts to be effective, they require local involvement and ‘buy-in’ from local stakeholders. More than anything, our study provides a road map for doing climate impact assessment through a process that involves two-way engagement between scientists and stakeholders.”

In addition to her role as an NJSGC researcher, Dr.  Leichenko is a Professor of Geography at Rutgers University. She serves as the co-Director of the Rutgers Climate Institute and has been studying the social and economic impacts of climate change for roughly 20 years. Dr. Leichenko has studied climate change impacts in New Jersey and New York for the past 7 years and previously in Pakistan and India during the earlier part of her career. She has also worked on climate change projects in China and southern Africa.