North Atlantic Region

Geography & Economy

Atlantic cod

NOAA’s North Atlantic region extends from Maine to Virginia and encompasses the marine coastlines of 11 states, as well as Vermont and the Connecticut, Delaware, Hudson and Susquehanna river watersheds. It varies from the largest city (New York City) to the smallest state (Rhode Island). This area is rich with history, culture and economic opportunities. It is characterized by several large scale geographic features including the Gulf of Maine and Cape Cod Bay and estuarine systems including Long Island Sound, New York Bight, Delaware Bay and Chesapeake Bay. The geology includes rocky shorelines, wetlands, and beach/dune complexes as well as significant barrier island systems with extensive intertidal and freshwater wetland complexes, and low lying sandy coastal plains.

Port Elizabeth, NJ

The North Atlantic is home to 70 million people. One hundred eighty coastal counties (and the District of Columbia) constitute 40 percent of the total land area, and 58 million residents, approximately 82 percent of the region’s population. Almost the entire U.S. eastern seaboard is linked by the I-95 Interstate, which runs from Florida through Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and up to Boston and into Maine.

The North Atlantic has significant coastal-dependent industries. In New England, the ocean economy accounts for 200,000 jobs, $6.1 billion in wages and $11.2 billion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) [3] with seventy-five percent of the jobs in tourism and recreation. In the Mid-Atlantic, the ocean economy accounts for over 600,000 jobs, $20.3 billion in wages and $40.2 billion of GDP, with seventy-nine percent in tourism and recreation and another 12 percent from marine transportation. The North Atlantic has four of the Nation’s ten largest metropolitan areas, three of the top five U.S. ports (value of fish landed) and five of the Nation’s top 20 ports (international cargo volume).

Major Weather Events in 2011

A deer wades through floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene on August 28, 2011, in Lincoln Park, N.J. (Julio Cortez/AP)

Greater coastal populations also increase the vulnerability of people, structures and economies to hazards including tornadoes, hurricanes and nor’easters. 2011 saw several major weather events that did considerable damage. On June 1, an EF3# tornado killed 3 and injured at least 72 in a dramatic 39 mile swath across south central Massachusetts. Much of the damage has yet to be repaired or replaced. In August, Hurricane Irene struck the U.S. as a Category 1 hurricane (lowest designation) in eastern North Carolina, then moved northward along the Mid-Atlantic Coast. Irene made an additional landfall as a tropical storm in the New York City area and progressed inland over CT, central MA, and into VT. Irene dropped torrential rains across the Northeast that caused widespread flooding from which several states, including Vermont, are still recovering. More than 7 million homes and businesses lost power during the storm, and Irene caused at least 45 deaths and more than $7.3 billion in damages. Tropical Storm Lee further impacted the region in September. There was considerable damage from record flooding across the Northeast (PA, NY, NJ, CT, VA, MD). Pennsylvania and New York were most affected. Total losses exceed $1.0 billion, with 21 deaths.

Waquoit marsh, MA

A Changing Climate

Climate change will place additional areas at risk due to coastal storm surge, flooding, sea level rise, salt water intrusion, and changes to temperature and precipitation extremes. Over 1,000 square miles along the Northeast coast are threatened by a predicted 20-inch rise in sea level by the end of this century.  The Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States report noted several potential challenges for the Northeast in a changing climate1Extreme heat and declining air quality are likely to pose increasing problems for human health, especially in urban areas; agricultural production, including dairy, fruit, and maple syrup, are likely to be adversely affected as favorable climates shift; severe flooding due to sea-level rise and heavy downpours is likely to occur more frequently; the center of lobster fisheries is projected to continue its northward shift and the cod fishery on Georges Bank is likely to be diminished; and the projected reduction in snow cover will adversely affect winter recreation and the industries that rely upon it.

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