The RENCI Engagement Center at ECU operated from 2007-2013. This website is an archive of the research and engagement activity over those years. Several of our projects continue at ECU. For instance, see the NC Coastal Atlas ( for current news and information. This site is no longer being updated. Parties interested in these projects and ongoing related activities may contact Dr. Tom Allen, past Director of RENCI@ECU at



2011-2012 Focus: Sea Level Rise

North Carolina has been identified as one of the three states with highest vulnerability to sea level rise. WIth over 5900 square km of land below 1 meter elevation, over 300 miles of beaches and more than 4,600 miles of shoreline along our sounds, coastal rivers and wetlands. The coastal cities, wetlands and ther natural resources in this area are threatened by sea level rise.

Northeastern North Carolina has experienced a one-foot increase in sea level over the last century. Many scientists expect the sea to rise more than three feet by 2100. Roads, buildings and community services are threatened. Sea-level rise over the next century is expected to cause increased flooding, loss of wetlands, submergence of low-lying areas and shore erosion.

The following two projects address the challenges of managing future sea level rise in North Carolina's most vulnerable regions.

Maps, Marshes and Management: Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise in North Carolina

Project Lead: Tom Allen

Geovisualization of potenital inundation due to sea level rise in the Albemarle- Pamlico Estuarine System. (Brent Gore, Matt Carey, Travis Hill and Michelle Covi)

Coastal managers concerned with environmental policy and ecological management are increasingly calling upon scientists and academia to provide information on sea-level rise.  Toward this, the NOAA-supported North Carolina Ecological Effects of Sea-Level Rise (NCEESLR) project measured processes and rates of relative sea-level rise, producing important baselines and model simulations to enable first-order estimates of wetlands responses to sea-level rise.  A variety of maps, shoreline and wetland erosion and accretion trends, and site and regional observations of processes and estuarine system evolution were developed.  In order to support and enable coastal managers seeking to develop policy, educate, or promote climate adaptation, this project assimilates results from the NCEESLR project and augments the products with analytical visualization and geospatial tools.  The overall goal of this project is to provide information and practical tools to enhance coastal ecological management and decision-making for ecological restoration, shoreline erosion abatement (e.g., living shoreline site suitability), and planning for sustainability of wetlands undergoing sea-level transgression.

The project collaboratively develops and implements sea-level rise geospatial tools and visualizations in partnership with State, local, and non-profit organizations.  Products include a continuum of visualization sophistication, from simple, static maps to dynamic, interactive data.   The work plan will produce a portfolio of NC EESLR products for managers and researchers:

  1. Website portal for interactive SLR mapping, including digital historical shorelines, inlets, and erosion rates from across the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System. 
  2. Documentation of map and toolkit use case scenarios through engagement with collaborating staff of The Nature Conservancy, NC DENR, and local municipal agencies (e.g., site suitability of living shorelines for erosion abatement.)
  3. Site-specific modeling in the form of prediction of marsh responses, adapting methods and results from prior work on the Marsh Equilibrium Model (MEMII), Sea-Level Affecting Marshes Model, and geospatial inundation models.    

Giving coastal managers access to scientific results in a one-stop portal with visualizations and demonstrated use case studies will support their adoption of geospatial data and predictive models for decision-making and planning for sea-level rise.   The geovisual tools will enhance broad system understanding of potential impacts and provide landscape and site-specific information (erosion, accretion, hotspots, suitability for abatement and restoration) that have heretofore been unavailable.  In collaboration with The Nature Conservancy and NC DENR, the project will work closely with interested local officials from the Town of Plymouth and elsewhere to ensure the relevance of the tools and their adoption by planners and decision-makers.


The Nature Conservancy
NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Town of Plymouth
CICS-NC (Coopertaitve Institute for Climate and Satellites)
National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration

Sea Level Rise Risk Communication

Project Team: Michelle Covi, Donna Kain

Adapting to sea-level rise in coastal communities requires local capacity building that must involve domain experts and a variety of stakeholders including local decision makers and the public.  To inform and engage these diverse interests, effective communication among them about environmental change and adaptation is essential before meaningful action can take place. The development of an effective approach to communication necessitates understanding the knowledge, attitudes, and mental models of those involved.   Knowledge gaps about risks between climate specialists and local stakeholders must also be understood. Uncertainty about the processes and consequences of sea level rise as well as the efficacy of plans for adaptation must be addressed in areas including environmental, community infrastructure, economic, and social values. For the public in particular, risk communications must use appropriate framing, compelling visual images, and accessible language for scientific information. Because people understand risks in localized ways, as embedded in social contexts and situated within the social experiences and interactions of individuals, groups, and institutions information about sea level rise risks and adaptation needs to be perceived as applicable to the community.

Though risk communicators are advised to know your audience and tailor messages, too frequently the engagement with audiences necessary to understand their needs as well as the local knowledge they bring to the table is cursory. A document-based evaluation approach is used to assess residents’ issue awareness, reaction to texts and images, and possible adaptation responses. The document-based evaluations with residents are supplemented by semi-structured interviews of elected and appointed public officials and representatives of local environmental organizations.

 Preliminary results identify problems that residents have with understanding scientific information and differences in comprehension when localized examples, as opposed to regional examples, are used.  Most people (88%) learned new information from the documents, but substantial confusion exists in understanding the causes of sea level rise. Attitudes and beliefs about environmental change and adaptation options were revealed including fear, skepticism, fatalism, and loss. Perspectives among local officials also varied, suggesting that people serving communities in different capacities may have conflicting views on economic and infrastructure issues related to SLR and adaptation needs. Communications must be considered in an environment of converging risks and divergent opinions about the role of government in regulating land use to prepare for changes in sea level. This approach yields an empathetic, audience-driven communication strategy that is more effective in promoting understanding of the science of climate change and may make discussions of adaptation strategies  productive.


North Carolina Sea Grant