As the mercury begins to inch its way up the thermometer and many Hudson County residents end their winter hibernation with a springtime walk or jog, Tom Herrington, an associate research professor at the Steven Institute of Technology in Hoboken, can still be found in the bowels of his research university's labs. Herrington is investigating the impacts that global warming, or "climate change" as scientists say, could have on the earth's oceans. While his research is not so localized, he believes that a gradual heating of the earth's atmosphere could have some devastating impacts on Hudson County residents. Although there are still a handful of mostly-industry-funded scientists who insist that global warming is a myth, the overwhelming majority of climatologists believe that the earth's average temperature will rise due to the amount of heat-trapping gases that are pumped into the atmosphere from cars, electrical plants and other sources. Predictions range from an increase in average global temperatures of less than one degree Fahrenheit in the next one hundred years to more than eight degrees. "In New Jersey [temperatures] could increase about 4 degrees Fahrenheit (with a range of two to eight degrees) in summer and fall with slightly less change in the spring and more in winter," according to a report on climate change recently released by the Environmental Protection Agency. While it is still hard to say if human activity has already led to a warming of the earth's atmosphere, a slew of mild winters and scorching hot summers has convinced many residents that there is something askew with the weather. Scientific data confirms this assumption. Meteorologists say that 1998 was the warmest year recorded since the British began keeping climatological records more than 100 years ago. And eight of the warmest 10 years on record have occurred since 1990, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Although there is still a lot of research left to be done to pin down exactly what impacts a gradual warming could have, Herrington says that the biggest impacts for Hudson County residents are likely to stem from warmer ocean waters. As the water in the ocean warms it will expand, eating up precious shoreline and potentially causing more floods. "It's not like Hudson County or Manhattan is going to be submerged under water," Herrington said last week in a phone interview. "But if there is a tendency for the water to warm, then we will end up with a higher sea level on average. That means that we could end up with situations where the drainage pipes [attached to the sewers] are submerged and that could lead severe drainage problems and even ponding." Low-lying areas that are already susceptible to flooding, like parts of Hoboken and Weehawken, could be hit the hardest. In addition to a gradual rise in sea levels, scientists warn that climate change could lead to increased incidents of severe weather such as hurricanes. "The earth has an amazing ability to balance itself out," said Herrington. "Hurricanes are the greatest heat engine in the world. They can take more energy out of one place and put it in another than any other system. So if we have a situation where we have warmer water, hurricanes will occur with greater frequency to re-distribute that heat. And the more hurricanes we have, the more likely we are to see them in our region." A higher frequency in extreme weather conditions could lead to more storms that reach as far north as New Jersey and high tide conditions like those that caused the flooding of the PATH train tubes in 1992. Despite the dire warnings, at least one regional official appears to be confident that the County is ready to deal with climate change. "Global warming won't have any significant impact on us in the next 100 years," said Fred Pocci, the Executive Director of the North Hudson Sewage Authority. "The scientists can't put any precise number on the amount of sea level rise, so you just can't measure the impact. I don't think you can even say that this will have any impact on us in the next 1,000 years." Scientists currently see an average rise of 15 inches a century at the New Jersey shoreline, according to the EPA. They say the number could rise if the polar ice caps start melting and the water continues to warm. "Since we have built right up to the shoreline in many areas in Hudson County, even a gradual loss there is significant," said Herrington. Environmentalists argue that even though there are still some unknown variables when it comes to climate change, taking action now to curb the emissions of heat trapping gases could save a lot of money and heartache in the long run. "It's like investing in an insurance policy," said Dan Becker, the Sierra Club's global warming director. "We can bury our heads in the sand and pretend that nothing is happening or we can take sensible action now to avoid what could be devastating circumstances." Among other things, the San Francisco-based Sierra Club is advocating for an increase in the average fuel economy of cars and light trucks, whose tailpipes emit 20 percent of the global warming pollution released into the atmosphere every year. "The biggest single step we can take to fight global warming is to raise the average fuel economy standards of cars to 45 miles per gallon and trucks to 34," said Becker. "We have the technology to do that today, and if we do it, it will save consumers money at the gas pump." Doctors have warned that if we don't take steps like the ones that the Sierra Club is advocating, we could even face impacts to our health. "Climate change could bring more rainfall and more flooding, which could result in more standing water around us," explained Herrington. "The more standing water that you have, the more that you are giving the pathogens a chance to fester. So I think it is likely that we will see new disease vectors here that we have never seen in these parts before." Herrington added, "A great example of that is the West Nile Virus. These sorts of mosquito born diseases may become more frequent." Concerns like these have mobilized many members of local environmental groups, according to Robin Whitney, a trustee with the Hoboken Environment Committee. "This is a huge concern," she said. "Its another issue that impacts the quality of life of the city's residents."