Climate Change and North Carolina’s Sounds and Barrier Islands35.3N 75.8W
The sea that sculpted North Carolina’s coast, from its arc of barrier islands (visible beyond Pamlico Sound, to the right), to the vast, nurturing sounds, is reshaping it once again. Water is rising three times faster on the N.C. coast than it did a century ago as warming oceans expand and land ice melts, recent research has found. It’s the beginning of what a N.C. science panel expects will be a 1-meter increase by 2100.
Rising sea level is the clearest signal of climate change in North Carolina. Few places in the United States stand to be more transformed. About 2,000 square miles of the state’s low, flat coast is 1 meter (about 39 inches) or less above water. At risk are more than 30,500 homes and other buildings.
This won’t be the work of rising water alone, but of quirks in North Carolina’s coastal topography. The flat ground means even a small increase in water level will spread far inland. The coastal plain is also sinking, the geologic legacy of the last Ice Age. Sea-level rise also magnifies two other powerful forces: erosion that gouges the coastline and the pounding of nor’easters and tropical storms (click here to read more).