New Report from NOAA Shows Accelerating Risk of Sea Level Rise
A new report by federal climate scientists says sea level rise is accelerating, posing a more immediate threat to North Carolina and other coastal areas nationwide than previously thought.
The report from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with help from six other federal agencies, projects ocean levels along the U.S. coast will rise an average of 10 to 12 inches by 2050. Researchers say that amount of sea level rise over the next 30 years is equal to the total increase over the past 100 years.
That translates into moderate floods that now happen every four or five years happening four to five times a year. Sunny day flooding, which typically happens during extreme high tides, will increase in frequency as well.
"By 2050, moderate flooding, flooding that typically damages property and commerce, is expected to occur 10 times as often as it does today," said Nicole LeBoeuf, director of NOAA's National Ocean Service.
Ironically, the new numbers aren’t that different from what climate scientists have been talking about for years.
But…“The report provides a lot more clarity and data to those numbers,” said Rick Luettich, who heads the Center for Natural Hazards Resilience and is Director of the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences. “The report shows the risk is not just a bunch of scenarios that might happen given certain conditions. The risk is real and it’s happening now and it’s going to be a significant problem much earlier.”
Flooding without storms
While most people think of coastal flooding during hurricanes and severe storms, the report predicts more flooding without storms.
According to the report, “Sea level rise will create a profound shift in coastal flooding over the next 30 years by causing tide and storm surge heights to increase and reach further inland."
The amount of sea level rise poses significant problems for North Carolina’s ports as well as agriculture industry. As seawater seeps further inland, it will render land unusable for farming. It will also disrupt septic systems as well as freshwater systems.
“Saltwater intrusion is a major concern for the viability of coastal areas; not just tourist areas but also farming communities,” adds Leuttich. “That’s the hidden consequence.”
Big changes on the horizon
“It’s important to remember this is a much bigger challenge than where land and sea meet,” said Todd Miller, executive director of the North Carolina Coastal Federation. “A one-foot rise in sea level in 30 years means parts of our barrier islands will be severely eroded or disappear, Pamlico Sound and other barrier island protected sounds and estuaries will be transformed into unprotected bays, and estuarine shorelines and salt marshes along our mainland areas will erode dramatically and move inland.”
The report also admits there’s little to be done about the next few decades as far as lowering the emissions of greenhouse gasses that cause global warming.
It also adds a chilling warning if nothing is done to drop emissions. Under current conditions, sea level could rise by 2 feet by the end of this century. But if emissions are not checked, the increase could be as much as 7 feet.