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New sea level rise predictions available

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The ocean off the coast of Wilmington could creep as much as 6.8 inches landward over the next 30 years, states an anticipated update to a controversial 2010 state sea level rise report.

The report, released for public review and comment March 31, offers a range of sea level rise estimates by geographic location along the North Carolina coast and under three different climate change scenarios.

The original report offered a coast-wide estimate as high as 39 inches by 2100, which spurred state lawmakers to halt policymaking on the subject and order another report in a 2012 state law. The N.C. Coastal Resources Commission Science Panel, a group of scientists and engineers behind the original report, reconvened to generate estimates with a more regional scope and a shorter timeframe under directions outlined by the state law and Coastal Resources Commission Chairman Frank Gorham.

The panel analyzed data collected at tide gauges at Duck, Oregon Inlet, Beaufort, Wilmington and Southport. Higher rates of rise are offered along the coast north of Cape Lookout, an area more vulnerable to changes in ocean currents, especially the speed and position of the Gulf Stream, and land subsidence, or sinking. Assuming the same rate of historical rise observed in the gauge data, the report predicts the ocean could rise 2.4 inches around Wilmington and 5.4 inches around Duck over the next 30 years.

Considered the driving force of climate change by many scientists, the panel also accounted for the influence of greenhouse gas emissions using the latest numbers from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an organization operating under the direction of the United Nations. The report predicts slightly higher rates of rise of 5.8 inches near Wilmington and 7.1 inches near Duck under a curbed emission scenario, compared to 6.8 inches near Wilmington and 8.1 inches near Duck if emissions continue at peak concentrations.

Predictions in the latest iteration of the report are lower than estimates included in a working draft of the report submitted for peer review in December 2014. N.C. Division of Coastal Management spokesperson Michele Walker said the panel recalculated some rates after peer reviewers Dr. James Houston, a retired U.S. Army Corps of Engineers research director, and the late Dr. Robert Dean, professor emeritus in the University of Florida’s coastal and oceanographic engineering program, identified a mathematical error in the panel’s calculations.

The report will remain open to public inspection until December 2015, when the panel will incorporate public input into a final report due to the N.C. General Assembly by March 2016.  No public information meetings about the report are currently scheduled, Walker said, but science panel chair Dr. Margery Overton will present the report to the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission during its April meeting in Nags Head, where the public is invited to attend and submit comments.

Comments are also accepted via email, directed to Division of Coastal Management Coastal and Ocean Policy Manager Tancred Miller at [email protected]

To read the report and other resources, visit portal.

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