North Carolina Sea Level Rise Risk Management Project

Jessi Kershner Kathryn Braddock
Posted on: 8/05/2021 - Updated on: 4/02/2024

Posted by

Kathryn Braddock

Project Summary

Note: This case study has been migrated to the Adaptation Clearinghouse and will be removed from CAKE at the end of 2024. 

North Carolina is significantly vulnerable to sea level rise due to its landform and unique coastal habitats. The North Carolina Sea Level Rise Risk Management Project evaluated the potential changes in coastal flooding hazards due to rising sea levels and increased storm frequency and intensity, including changes to human and natural systems. The project produced a final report in 2012 describing hazards and risks, as well as preferred mitigation and adaptation options.  


The North Carolina Sea Level Rise Risk Management Project began in February 2009 with the goals of informing state and federal policymakers about sea level rise impacts and promoting the development of risk management policy. The geographic scope of the project included areas along eastern North Carolina at risk of flooding from sea level rise and increased storms. The project evaluated the likely changes in coastal flooding hazards due to sea level rise as well as changes in storm frequency and intensity, and examined future vulnerability to temporary and permanent flooding and erosion. It was funded through a FEMA budget appropriation of $5 million to the State of North Carolina and administered through the North Carolina Office of Geospatial and Technology Management Floodplain Mapping Program. The study was carried out through a collaborative effort between the State of North Carolina, the North Carolina university system, Dewberry, and other stakeholders, and was organized into nine workgroups: (1) conceptual modeling, (2) analytical modeling and programming, (3) coastal landforms, (4) processes and structures, (5) flood risk strategies, (6) buildings and coastal structures, (7) critical infrastructure, (8) ecological, agriculture and aquaculture, and (9) societal. 


The three-year project studied the potential impacts of sea level rise, coastal flooding, and erosion in 20 North Carolina coastal counties. Study partners examined future hazard scenarios (e.g., 70 cm rise in sea level, 1 meter, 1.4 meters) at 25-year intervals (e.g., 2025, 2050, 2075, 2100) to identify vulnerabilities. They also reviewed existing federal and state risk management plans and initiatives related to hazard and/or flood management, and evaluated how effective these plans are at addressing new risks (e.g., quantifying performance and/or examining their potential adaptability). Based on their results, partners made recommendations to modify existing programs or create new programs. The information from this project was also used in an impact assessment framework to evaluate average annualized losses.

Outcomes and Conclusions

Final products included a report identifying hazards and risks, as well as mapping products; a study template, data requirements and guidance for assisting future studies; a GIS analytical toolset; and preferred mitigation and adaptation options applicable to different environments. Example adaptation strategies include acquiring properties vulnerable to inundation and managing as floodable open space, using rolling easements to allow for inland migration of coastal habitats, providing new job training for individuals in industries at risk of losing their livelihoods due to sea level rise, elevating and relocating critical infrastructure, and retrofitting historic buildings to withstand flooding.


Kershner, J. and Braddock, K.N. (2021). North Carolina Sea Level Rise Risk Management Project [Case study on a Dewberry Project]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: (Last updated April 2021)

Project Contact

Jerry Sparks
Associate Vice President
Dewberry, Inc.
[email protected]

North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality 


Affiliated Organizations

North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality

Affiliated Organizations

Dewberry is a leading professional services firm with a proven history of providing architecture, engineering, and management and consulting services to a wide variety of public- and private-sector clients. Recognized for combining unsurpassed commitment to client service with deep subject matter expertise, Dewberry is dedicated to solving clients’ most complex challenges and transforming their communities. Established in 1956, Dewberry is headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia, with more than 40 locations and 1,800+ professionals nationwide.

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