NC Science Panel Revisits Sea Level Rise

Apr 1, 2015

A state science panel predicts sea level could rise off the coast by an average of seven inches over the next 30 years. The report is the first from the science panel, since state lawmakers blocked an earlier version that predicted extreme effects.


Credit Megha Punjani / Flickr

In 20102, at the behest of the state’s Coastal Resources Commission, a panel of geologic and marine scientists from the Army Corps of Engineers and the UNC system drafted a report on sea level rise off North Carolina’s coast. The report could influence coastal regulations and home insurance prices.

When the panel predicted a potentially devastating, 3-foot rise over the next 100 years, based on climate change, state lawmakers banned the report—garnering ridicule from comedian Stephen Colbert.

“This is a brilliant solution,” Colbert announced on his show The Colbert Report. “If your science gives you a result you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal.”

The state required a four-year delay and then a new study limited to the next 30 years— before the most severe effects of warming seas and melting ice sheets are projected to kick in.

The science panel published the new draft Wednesday. It predicts a mean sea level rise of about seven inches, but possibly higher than 10 inches in Dare County, and lower than six inches off Wilmington. Roughly half of the rise stems from climate change.

“A seven-inch rise could mean a moving inundation, moving fairly far in,” says Victor Flatt, director of UNC’s Center for Law, Environment, Adaptation, and Resources. Flatt says beach renourishment projects will mitigate much of that impact.

“But I think the big impact are the floods,” says Flatt. “Not just floods from hurricanes. They’re floods from regular storms and just even high tide events. So, that water will find its way in, and that flooding is going to get more routine.”

The report is open for public comments until the end of the year. It won’t be finalized and sent to lawmakers until 2016.

Correction: The science panel's report initially came out in 2010. State lawmakers banned it in 2012.