Changing Carolina Coast

 In this multi-part series Dave DeWitt examines the challenges faced by the state and coastal residents.

The Changing Carolina Coast: North Carolina has the second-longest Atlantic coastline east of the Mississippi River. With more than 300 miles of oceanfront – more than 3,000 miles when sounds are included – the state greatly benefits from a wide array of ecological and economical aspects unique to such an environment. But challenges come with those benefits: sea-level rise, dynamic geological changes, and increasing and intensifying weather events are just a few of the realities facing the coast and the residents and tourists drawn to it.

Three relative sea level rise (RSLR) scenarios by 2045 using published tide gauge rates and two different scenario projections from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) representing the lowest and highest greenhouse gas emission scenarios, combined with local vertical land movement (VLM) at each tide gauge.
Credit Science Panel, NC Coastal Resources Commission

Key Reports And Information

Places mentioned in the series

Other links of Interest

Nags Head
Dave DeWitt / WUNC

A new paper focused on sea-level rise along the North Carolina coast largely backs up the findings outlined in the most recent draft report from the Coastal Resources Commission’s Science Panel, with one significant difference.

vibracore
Dave DeWitt

For a coastal geologist, a vibracore is like a time machine. As a generator vibrates a long aluminum tube, Professor Antonio Rodriguez and his two graduate students force it deep into the Onslow Beach sand.

When they pull it up a few minutes later, it reveals several thousand years of history.

Jackson DeWitt

October is clearly not happy. And when a 250-pound loggerhead isn’t happy, caretakers at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center have found that lovingly slapping her shell seems to calm her down.

“When something is upset, what is your first impulse as a human species? It’s to pat,” says Jean Beasley, the founder and executive director of the sea-turtle hospital. “So we did and it worked, the turtle calmed down. I think it has something to do with the wave cycle and the feeling of security.”

Scott Cahoon, Hatteras Island Phantom Photography

As you stroll out toward the end of the Rodanthe Fishing Pier, it is impossible not to notice that it’s not entirely straight.

It goes a little bit up. It goes a little bit down. The pier jogs a little to the right and left in different places. A few boards are loose, too, and it’s mighty windy. In other words, it’s not perfect, but for Terry Plumblee, being here is a lifelong dream come true.

Jockey's Ridge State Park
Dave DeWitt

Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head is North Carolina’s most famous giant pile of sand—and the tallest natural sand dune in the eastern United States.

But here’s a little secret: Even a remarkable all-natural phenomenon like Jockey’s Ridge needs a little man-made help.

Image of geovisualization of potential inundation due to sea level rise in the Albemarle- Pamlico Estuarine System.
East Carolina University (Brent Gore, Matt Carey, Travis Hill and Michelle Covi)

A few weeks ago, the ocean washed away a 200-foot stretch of Highway 12 in Kitty Hawk.

It wasn’t destroyed by a hurricane or a Nor'easter. It was just another storm. Geologists say it is one more example of how life is changing along the North Carolina coast, thanks in part to the rising sea level. 

US Army Corps Of Engineers

North Carolina’s most recent Sea-Level Rise Report is the product of decades of tidal gauge data, computer modeling and hundreds of years of collected scientific expertise. But Jon Britt doesn’t need all that to tell him the water’s getting higher. He just needs to look out his back door.

Nags Head
Dave DeWitt

North Carolina became forever known around the world as the state that outlawed climate change a few minutes after 11:30 p.m. on June 4th, 2012. That’s when satirical newsman Stephen Colbert boiled down the General Assembly’s actions into a tight, easy-to-repeat headline.

“I think this is a brilliant solution,” comedian Stephen Colbert said that night. “If your science gives you a result that you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved.”