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Science & Environment
WFAE reporter David Boraks explores how the way we live influences climate change and its impact across the Carolinas. You also can read additional national and international climate news.

Rising Seas Endanger Outer Banks, Atlantic Coast


Large areas of the Outer Banks and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast are in danger because of rising seas. That’s according to a recent report on climate change by two environmental groups.

Here’s what a beach vacation to Cape Hatteras or Cape Lookout might be like later this century:

"The summers could average as hot as those in Galveston, Texas, and it is well over half of the land out there that is vulnerable to being covered by a rising sea," said Stephen Saunders, the report's lead author.

He’s with the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, which along with the National Resources Defense Council, cited more than 100 scientific studies to produce this report.

Saunders said large swaths of the Outer Banks are less than three feet above sea level right now - and we’re not just talking about beachfront property. He said best case scenario, sea level will rise almost two feet by the end of this century. That’s counting on major reductions in carbon emissions.

"But if we don’t make these changes, we’re looking at what could easily be five feet of sea level rise," Saunders said.

A North Carolina science panel previously came up with an estimate in between those two scenarios – it said sea level will rise a little more than three feet by the end of the century. That would put much of the low-lying land along the North Carolina coast underwater.  

But coastal business and development interests didn’t like that take, and the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a law this summer forcing the state science panel to change its estimates. The law mandates that for the next four years, sea level forecasts can’t be based on climate change – scientists can only use historical trends.

Saunders said that’s the equivalent of putting your head in the sand.