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New study finds Carolina coastal economy vulnerable to sea level rise

RALEIGH, NC   (June 20, 2007)   —   A new report released today finds that North Carolina’s coastline will continue to experience significant loss in land area, property and recreational value in the next 30 to 75 years due to projected changes in climate, leading North Carolina researchers announced.

The findings appear in the report “Measuring the Impacts of Climate Change on North Carolina Coastal Resources,” which assesses the impact of rising sea levels on property values, recreation and quality of life, and was conducted by researchers from Appalachian State University, East Carolina University, University of North Carolina Wilmington and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. The study finds that

•North Carolina’s coastal topography makes it especially vulnerable to sea level rise and hurricanes—both economically and ecologically.

• A one- to three-foot rise in sea level along four North Carolinacoastal counties could mean billions of dollars in private property losses over the next 75 years.

• Recreational fishing and beach trips also are vulnerable to increased erosion from sea level rise and hurricanes.

•Business interruption losses from hurricanes could increase by as much as $157 million per storm event by 2080.

The study surveyed the counties of New Hanover, Dare, Carteret and Bertie. These four counties represent a cross-section of theNorth Carolina coastline in geographical distribution and economic development, according to the study. Researchers found that North Carolina’s coast is highly vulnerable to climate change, and looked at the economic impact global warming could have on its resources. They also considered how sea level rise would affect damage to property values, coastal recreation and tourism.

According to current research, sea levels globally are expected to rise significantly during the next century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that changes in the earth’s climate could raise global sea levels by one to more than two feet over the next 25 to 75 years.

The researchers used the IPCC projections, along with county tax, recreation and travel, and fishing data to determine their findings.

John Whitehead, a professor of economics at Appalachian State University, was lead author. Other contributors were Okmyung “Paul” Bin from East Carolina University’s Department of Economics and Chris Dumas from the Department of Economics and Finance at UNC Wilmington. Ben Poulter, formerly of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences and now with the Department of Global Change and Natural Systems at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, assisted with computer modeling of the non-economic data used to generate the report.

Whitehead looked at the impact that loss of beach width would have on fishing and recreational trips.

“Anglers who like to catch saltwater fish but don’t own boats or have enough money for a charter boat rental have two options: They can fish off a pier or fish from the beach,” Whitehead said. “If the beach disappears, anglers can switch to the piers, which may become crowded and less enjoyable. People traveling to the beach for recreation won’t have a similar option.”

By the year 2080, 14 of the 17 recreational swimming beaches in southern North Carolina could, without adaptation, erode all the way to the road, eliminating the possibility for beach recreation in those areas.

As the beach diminishes, Whitehead said, people would spend less time and money at the coast as a result of the lost recreational opportunities. Using economic models, he estimated the lost economic value for southern North Carolina beaches would total $3.9 billion over the next 75 years.



Contact: ECU News Bureau | 252-328-6481