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Sea level rising faster than average in southeastern North Carolina

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(Photo: Public Radio East)
The ocean has risen nearly 8 inches in just 12 years along the coast of New Hanover County. The rise is happening far faster than the average for the planet, which is less than a quarter inch annually. But Wilmington is impacted by the Gulf Stream- even more so than neighbors like Beaufort or Myrtle Beach, which each saw about 5 and a half inches of sea level rise in the same time period.

Data across the Eastern Seaboard have shown that sea levels are rising faster here than many other places in the world- but the increase is even larger in Wilmington.

Biological Oceanographer Larry Cahoon from UNCW says the ocean has risen nearly 8 inches in just 12 years along the coast of New Hanover County.

Cahoon says it’s hard to know whether the trends will continue this way, but it may be big trouble for Wilmington if they do. After all, areas of downtown Wilmington and parts of Carolina Beach are already seeing sunny-day flooding during high tides. And rising sea levels may make hurricanes and tropical storms worse, because the level of water could be even higher during coastal inundation.

"I was surprised when I saw the data, like, Holy God, you know, it's not fatal, but it's like, wow, let's hope that doesn't keep going like that," he said. So, yeah, eight inches in 12 years is actually stunning. It is. Because no one forecasted it."

The rise is happening far faster than the average for the planet, which is less than a quarter inch annually. But Cahoon says Wilmington is impacted by the Gulf Stream- even more so than neighbors like Beaufort or Myrtle Beach, which each saw about 5 and a half inches of sea level rise in the same time period.

"The warmer water is actually riding higher in elevation than cooler water. The Gulf Stream by riding higher is actually pushing higher water levels inland toward us," he explained, "And Wilmington is dead center that we're seeing the worst of that."