Global warming could swamp N.C. coast, says EPA

Copyright 1998 Associated Press
September 25, 1998

North Carolina is the third most vulnerable state - behind Florida and Louisiana - to the threat of flooding spawned by global warming and the rising ocean, says a federal official.

Approximately 1,000 square miles of the North Carolina coast could be covered with water in the next century if the Atlantic Ocean continues it rise, according to data presented Thursday to the Coastal Resources Commission.

"You think renourishing the Outer Banks would be extensive, imagine elevating Hyde County," said Jim Titus, the sea-level rise project coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Titus said although scientists are debating why the ocean is rising, the Atlantic's movement is well documented.

In North Carolina, most of the inundation would occur near the Pamlico and Albemarle sounds, Titus said. In the state's southeast, marshes on the back side of barrier islands would vanish. Wetlands on the mainland, where there are no hardened structures impeding water movement, would retreat inland.

Pointing to a map that showed submerged land stretching 30 miles inland in parts of Hyde County, Titus advised the CRC to start factoring sea-level rise into its rule-making.

"Do you want the shore to resemble the rocky coast of Maine or the diked coast of the Netherlands?" he asked commission members.

One option is plugging gaps in the Outer Banks to create a continuous dike from near Morehead City to the Virginia line. Other possibilities include making canal transportation systems or completely diking around selected towns and letting the water settle in between.

The EPA believes the trend is accelerating because of global warming and may mean increased shoreline erosion, flooding and the widespread loss of low-lying areas.

The agency contends that unless an effort is made to hold back the sea in the next century, 5,000 square miles of land will be submerged.

The Clinton administration signed a treaty designed to halt or slow global warming last December. The treaty committed U.S. industries throughout the developed world to cap greenhouse gas emissions. But experts debate the probable effectiveness of the treaty, and some scientists insist that global warming is not a concern.

Commission members said they are taking the report seriously.

CRC member Courtney Hackney said the Atlantic's migration inland won't be as gradual as people might expect.

"It'll be like Louisiana, where all of a sudden water has started coming up," said Hackney, a marine biologist at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

The commission is working on rules to encourage alternatives to bulkheads in some areas and require larger vegetative buffers between homes and the water along shoreline that hasn't been developed.

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