Report: N.C. among most at risk to rising seas

Charlotte ObserverJanuary 21, 2009 

With its long low coastline and large land area less than two feet above sea level, North Carolina is among the states most vulnerable to sea-level rise, a new federal report warns.

The new report focuses on the coastal states from North Carolina to New York where the rates of sea level rise are moderately high. The region has extensive coastal development, a high population and is likely to be at increased risk.

After Florida and Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas have the largest land areas threatened by sea-level rise.

“You're vulnerable,” said Jim Titus, project manager for sea-level rise for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and lead author of the report, “Coastal Sensitivity to Sea Level Rise: A Focus on the Mid-Atlantic Region.” “The people whose land could be permanently submerged aren't even flooded today.”

A rise in sea level increases the vulnerability of development in coastal floodplains and diminishes the rate at which low-lying areas drain. It will result in a loss of wetlands in the mid-Atlantic.

Rising temperatures cause ocean waters to warm and expand, like water heated in a tea kettle. In addition, rising temperatures near the poles cause massive ice sheets to melt, adding to the volume of water.

The report predicts that coastal erosion will occur at higher rates as sea level rises. Particularly in the sandy shore of the mid-Atlantic coast, the report says, it is nearly certain that barrier islands, spits and coastal headlands will erode faster due to sea-level rise. The Outer Banks are particularly vulnerable.

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