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Charlotte Talks: Preparing For Rising Sea Levels In North Carolina

Dare County Government Channel

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Sea levels are rising faster than anticipated and our state’s beaches are particularly vulnerable. Yet we have no long-term strategy to deal with this. Mike Collins talks with experts about what the future may hold.

Climate scientists have been sounding alarm bells for years about the threat of rising sea levels and the devastating effects low-lying coastal communities will experience as a result. Here in North Carolina, some of our beloved beaches are especially at risk.

The state has a complicated history when it comes to discussing the threat of sea level rise, which scientists see as a direct result of a warming planet. In 2012, after a state science panel found that waters on our coastline could rise significantly - as much as 39 inches over the next 100 years - the General Assembly passed a law forbidding communities from using the report to make new rules.

Years later, that same panel issued another report, this time only looking 30 years out. But some scientists are concerned that prediction is shortsighted and doesn’t take into account the longer term implications of climate change.

We try to get a clear picture of where we stand with the threat of sea level rise, find out how coastal communities are preparing for an uncertain future, and discuss how to balance economic interests with environmental ones on North Carolina's coast.

Some highlights from the show:

How rising sea levels can impact North Carolina

“The map of the coast of eastern North Carolina is going to look very different with three feet of sea level rise than it does right now.  It means the water cable under all of those far eastern counties are also going to rise three feet which increases flooding, makes agriculture a little more difficult and also increases the rate of erosion on the shoreline dramatically.”
“When you raise sea level it drives all of our coastal environments; the shore lines, the barrier islands the estuaries, the marshes. Everything tries to move landward in response to that rising of the ocean. If there’s no infrastructure in the way that’s not a problem. The problem comes when we try to build on them.”

-Dr. Robert Young, coastal geology professor; Director, Study of Developed Shorelines

Western Carolina University

On the solution

“The first step in responding to long-term sea level rise is to wisely manage the coast right now for the hazards that exist. Make sure we’re not putting houses in places that are going to get knocked down by a hurricane and when we rebuild we’re not building in areas that are vulnerable. Following hurricane Sandy we put everything right back where it was.”

-Dr. Robert Young, coastal geology professor; director, Study of Developed Shorelines

Western Carolina University

“While we are cognizant of sea level rise, we don’t really see the impact on a daily basis. We’re concerned about the impact of storm events. I think our reality is that we can take an approach of adaptability and resilience.”

Chris Layton, town manager of Duck, NC


Dr. Robert Young - professor of coastal geology and director of the program from the study of developed shorelines at Western Carolina University. He is a leading expert on coastal erosion and climate change.

Chris Layton - Town Manager in Duck, NC

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Erin Keever is Senior Producer of WFAE's Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. She has been with the show since joining the station in 2006. She's a native Charlottean.