Will the Outer Banks Survive?

It may be mid-summer, and the Outer Banks may evoke memories of beaches, lighthouses, and wild horses, but UNC journalist and educator Sara Peach reminds us in this must-read National Geographic multimedia essay (photos, videos and maps) that memories could be all that remain in a few short years.

Among the scientists Peach interviewed is East Carolina coastal geologist Stanley Riggs, who contributed to a controversial report warning that “North Carolina could face 39 inches (1 meter) of sea-level rise by 2100, as glaciers melt and ocean waters warm and expand.”

As she describes, that report got a chilly reception from state lawmakers:

The report prompted a backlash from coastal developers and climate skeptics—and in 2012, from the state. Lawmakers in Raleigh considered a bill that would have prohibited state agencies from planning for accelerated sea-level rise.

Environmentalists were outraged, bloggers snickered, and even comedian Stephen Colbert weighed in: “If your science gives you a result you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal,” he joked. “Problem solved.”

Eventually, the state settled on a watered-down version of the law: a four-year moratorium on sea-level regulations, and an order for a new scientific study of sea-level rise, due out in 2015. In May, a state commission asked the science panel to limit its next sea-level forecast to 30 years.

The irony of the whole argument, Riggs says, is that the coast as we know it is already vanishing. “Sea-level rise and storms are taking out eastern North Carolina today—not a hundred years from now. They’re doing it today,” he says.

For more on the problems with erosion on the Outer Banks and the related access issues, read here.




  1. Alex

    July 30, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    9,100 of the previous 10,000 years were warmer than our current temperatures, and somehow the Outer Banks have remained as they are today. I worry a lot more about a crazy bunch of terrorists trying to kill us all of the time. This one will have to take a backseat.

  2. gregflynn

    July 30, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    The 10,000 years warmer claim has been debunked:

    10,000 years ago NC water levels were about 92 feet below current levels, and the shoreline was between 15 and 60 miles east of its present location.

  3. Bill Price

    July 30, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    Sea Level Rise or Fall ?
    I see a lot of comments from people that think Government should make public policy that will force local farmers, fishermen, and retired folks to lose there homes based on unsubstantiated theory?
    Does that concern you?
    The NC Coastal Resources Commission Science Panel said the rise of Sea Level has been 15″/100 y, and AGW would force rise to 39″ or more by 2100. ,,,,,, but then data from the Div of Coastal Management shows that, while we do have Beach Erosion on some areas, since 1980, Accretion is increasing while Erosion is decreasing; and then, NOAA funded Flood Mapping shows BFE ( Base Flood Elevations) has been FALLING significantly for areas of the NC Coast. (Interestingly, the areas the Science Panel said had the greatest Rise of Sea Level, have the greatest Fall of Sea level in the actual data.) On top of all that, International Temperature Records have not increased for over 15 years, and Time.com reports near record 88% Great Lakes freeze over past winter.
    I had understood that Sea Level has been rising ( very slowly ) since the last glaciation, but this sure is all mixed UP.
    How can we trust Scientific Foresight when real world data doesn’t support Scientific Hindsight?
    Bill Price USLandAlliance.US
    PS: To be fair, the CRC Science Panel did admit they didn’t do any real world research,,,, they only quoted the theoretical hypothetical opinions of all the esteemed Peer Experts from the EPA, , The Sierra Club, and the UN.
    Discouragingly, in Feb 2011 we asked the SP if they had or would compare current coastal maps with 1850’s US Coast Survey Charts to see if inundation of tidelands due to nearly 2 feet of SLR they say has occurred, has occurred. No response so far.

  4. david esmay

    July 30, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    More delusion from our resident conserva-troll. The planet has been warming at an accelerated rate since the beginning of the industrial revolution Alex! More in the last two hundred years than the previous 200,000.

  5. Alex

    July 30, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    That’s totally wrong David ! Do you have a source for your information? The earth hasn’t warmed a bit in the last 15 years.

  6. gregflynn

    July 31, 2014 at 4:46 pm

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