Coastal regulators to look at long-term sea level rise

Published 3:10 pm Wednesday, September 11, 2019

“Given the documented increase in rate of relative sea-level rise in this region, shallow marine conditions are likely to return to the central Albemarle Embayment in the near future.”

That conclusion by Stephen J. Culver and 10 other scientists published in 2011 may lie beneath the recent decision of the state’s Coastal Resources Commission (CRC) to give its science advisory panel the option to look at sea level rise predictions beyond 30 years in its 2020 update, Jennifer Allen reported August 15 in Coastal Review Online.

The Albemarle Embayment cited in the 2011 journal article is the land and waters in northeastern North Carolina between the Suffolk Scarp and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Suffolk Scarp (short for escarpment) is an ancient shoreline that formed into a ridge when sea level was much higher. It runs approximately parallel to and west of N.C. Hwy 32 in Washington and Beaufort counties and forms the Chowan River shoreline in Bertie County.

The central part of the Albemarle Embayment, where “shallow marine conditions are likely to return…in the near future” are the Dare County mainland and Tyrrell County east of Scuppernong River form.

The science panel’s report is a way for the CRC to provide understandable sea level projections specific to the state to help inform planning and decision making, Allen explained.

During its July meeting in Beaufort, the CRC decided that the science panel should have the ability to report projections for 30 years (2050) and beyond.

“We are flooding in more places, more often, and for longer periods of time than we have in recent memory. Forests are being drowned, wetlands lost, roads and yards flooded, storm drains are flowing backwards. People are seeing changes and want to find solutions,” Allen reported a state official as saying.

During its Sept. 18-19 meeting in Wilmington, the CRC is expected to give the science panel the go-ahead to begin the 2020 update process.

Relative sea level change is how the height of the ocean rises or falls relative to the land at a specific location. Absolute sea level change refers to the height of the ocean surface above the center of the Earth, without regard to whether nearby land is rising or falling, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.