By: Jonathan Smith
There are usually some common misconceptions about climate change that cause people to discount or sometimes even ignore the situation altogether. One common question among people is: why do individuals make a big deal out of sea level rises if it happens cyclically over centuries? A simple answer is that people today are the major difference in increasing sea level rises today in comparison to centuries before. Since people are the main cause of increasing rates of sea level change, it seems only logical that they could be in control of changing the situation (Pilkey & Young 2009).
Throughout the years, many attempts have been made to prevent sea level changes from affecting coastlines. These solutions have usually ended with marginal success or detrimental failures. A few of these solutions include: abandoning the coastal area in question, and relocating; Armoring of “sea walls” that are intended to keep ocean waters at bay as the seas rise; and to bring in sand from other areas to fortify current beaches (Pilkey & Young 2009). These past “solutions” have some important drawbacks associated with them. The last two listed are temporary solutions, and require constant maintenance. Armored sea walls are constantly being destroyed and have to be rebuilt in order to function. Also, sand brought in to fill over eroding coastal beaches can be washed away quickly by large coastal storms or even slowly over a couple of years by smaller ones. This leads to the downfall of all three actions mentioned that were taken in response to climate change; the cost. All of the options are prohibitively expensive, especially the temporary fixes described (Pilkey & Young 2009).
Climate change, in combination with rising sea levels, has a very high potential to damage everything from people and property, to land and sometimes entire ecosystems. A projected sea level rise of 18” per century was projected using data from prior years of climate change for North Carolina’s Coast. More recent studies project the sea level to increase up to 39”-55” by 2100. (Janin & Mandia, 2012).This could result in the loss of a great deal of the United State’s coastline and the organisms that inhabit the area. One of the most notable species extinction due to climate change was the loss of dinosaurs. Although sea level change was not an immediate threat to them by itself, the other environmental changes that were associated with it were harmful. Human extinction, perhaps, represents the highest potential of damage that climate change could have on people. A more immediate threat of sea level rise and global warming is lingering economical damage from altered ecosystems and resources. One state that exemplifies this threat is North Carolina.
North Carolina has one of the most notable coasts in the U.S. due to its’ increased frequency of change and susceptibility to even slight sea level changes. It lies on the Mid-Atlantic Coast, in between Cape Romain, SC and Virginia state line. The coast itself is divided into four bays over the span of 325 mile. The four bays are known as Onslow Bay, Long Bay, Raliegh Bay, Hatteras Bay. The more defining aspect that divides the North Carolina coast is its’ series of vast barrier islands, estuaries, and inlets (Ames, Culver, & Mallinson 2011). Estuaries are basins that contain a mixture of fresh and saline water. The ones on the coast of North Carolina are lined with large marshes and forest wetlands.
Around 25,000-8,000 years ago, enormous 2-mile thick ice glaciers covered the northern two-thirds of the United States. At the time, the sea level off North Carolina’s coast was 410’ below what it is today. This is the main reason for leftover remnants of shore formations found inland of the coast (Ames, Culver, & Mallinson 2011). The previous location of the shore shows the extreme change that can occur from climate change. Over time, barrier islands were formed by high-energy ocean storms in combination with the topography of the slipping coastal plain. Two other physical factors that barrier islands revolve around include: the availability of enough reliable sediment and the event of rising sea levels (Ames, Culver, & Mallinson 2011). Over long lengths of time, these islands get pushed upward and towards the shoreline. Therefore, barrier islands make up important energy absorbing buffers at the confluence of lands, sea, and air. Barrier islands can also act as a natural buffer to protect nearby mainland regions from various storms.
A number of environmental considerations are very significant when designing or planning on North Carolina’s coast. According to the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management’s soil erosion report of 2004, the coast was losing up to 15’ of sand and soil per year. Their study was based on aerial photographs spanning from 1946-1948 (Ames, Culver, & Mallinson 2011). When analyzing the development of this coastal area, it is apparent that many erosion signs and environmental considerations were not thought about; or maybe even completely ignored. Many resulting developments sustained a great deal of damage over short periods of time, costing tax payers countless dollars for upkeep and repair. Disaster events, such as hurricanes or large storm surges, need to be taken into account as well. Although events of that magnitude are nearly impossible to predict, they can very well be prepared for. One of the most basic things to consider, that is often overlooked, is the appropriateness of the development for the specific area in question (Wilson & Piper2010).
Schuetze, Christopher. "How Cities Plan to Keep the Sea at Bay in an Age of Climate Change." New York Times. 05 NOV 2012: n. Web. 28 Jan. 2013. <http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/05/how-cities-plan-to-keep-the-sea-at-bay-in-an-age-of-climate-change/>.
Stive, Marcel, Louise Fresco, Kabat Pavel, Parmet Bart, and Veerman Cees. "How the Dutch plan to stay dry over the next Century." ICE-Civil Engineering. 164. (2011): 114-212. Web. 28 Jan. 2013.
Janin, H., & Mandia, S. A. (2012). Rising sea levels: An introduction to cause and impact. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.
Brody, S. D., Highfield, W. E., & Kang, J. E. (2011). Rising waters: The causes and consequences of flooding in the united states. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
Wilson, E., & Piper, J. (2010). Spatial planning and climate change. New York, New York: Routledge.
Pilkey, O. H., & Young, R. (2009). The rising sea. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.
Ames, D. V., Culver, S. J., & Mallinson, D. J. (2011). The battle for north carolina's coast. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press