News & Observer, excerpts
By ORRIN H. PILKEY
DURHAM – It had to happen. As more and more buildings are built along the North Carolina shoreline and as shoreline-retreat catches up with these buildings (many of which are rentals), the pressure to bend the coastal regulations to save buildings becomes almost unbearable. But maintaining the shoreline status quo and protecting all buildings eventually means loss of our developed beaches. It also means we will be ill- prepared for sea-level rise.
Currently in North Carolina sea level is rising about 1.5 feet per century over a land slope that averages 1: 2000. This means a 1-foot rise could cause a shoreline retreat of more than a third of a mile (in theory). Already some of the erosion on our shoreline is due to sea-level rise, which explains why a spring high tide flooded N.C. 12 last year near Rodanthe.
Over the next 100 years, according to recent estimates by Professor Hal Wanless of the University of Miami, we should expect 5 to 6 feet of sea-level rise in the next 100 years. This is close to the North Carolina sea-level rise panel’s maximum estimate of 4.6 feet over the same time frame. The Wanless projection is a bit more up-to-date because it considers a whole series of warming events related to disappearing sea ice in the Arctic Ocean that may contribute 1 foot of rise.
Projections of the rise by scientists and government agencies are always on a century basis, but our problems will arise much quicker than that. To put this into a practical context, a 2- to 3-foot rise, which may be reached as soon as 40 to 60 years from now, means the end of barrier island development.
North Carolina’s coastal management program needs more backbone now than ever before. Gov. Beverly Perdue is about to appoint new members of the CRC. If the new appointees maintain the status quo and continue to protect all beachfront development, the state’s beaches will continue their downward plunge. Perdue should take the long view.
Orrin H. Pilkey is professor emeritus of earth science at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. With Rob Young he is the co-author of “The Rising Sea.”