North Carolina Sea Level Rise Project

Created: 12/18/2010 - Updated: 3/02/2020


The North Carolina Sea Level Rise (NC SLR) Project is a pilot study intended to improve scientific understanding of the ecological effects of sea level rise and storm surge on North Carolina coastal habitats and develop better models and tools to forecast these effects. Managers and planners were invited to attend a two-day workshop to discuss ways in which the findings from the NC SLR Project could be used to answer management needs and aid decision-making.


The NC SLR Project is funded by NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research (CSCOR) through its Ecological Effects of Sea Level Rise (EESLR) Program. It is the pilot study for a national program to improve understanding and scientific knowledge of sea level rise and surge impacts on coastal habitats, as well as to develop ecological models to forecast these impacts.

The NC SLR Project study area included the Neuse River and the Pamlico, Back, Bogue, and Core Sounds. A cooperative network of five multi-investigative projects were funded including:

  1. forecasting the effects of different sea level rise scenarios and/or storm surges on tidal shorelines, tidal conditions, and coastal inundation (Coast Survey Development Lab);
  2. predicting the ecological effects of sea level rise on coastal North Carolina marshes (University of South Carolina, Vanderbilt University, U.S. Geological Survey, East Carolina University);
  3. modeling estuarine habitat response to sea level rise and increased shoreline hardening (University of North Carolina Chapel Hill);
  4. predicting geomorphic change in the coastal system as a result of rising sea levels (East Carolina University and Kemp University of Pennsylvania); and
  5. using the Neuse Landscape Model to assess the quality and quantity of spatial and temporal coastal habitat change under diverse sea level rise scenarios (Enrique Reyes).

In July 2009, CSCOR convened the NC SLR Project: Application to Management Workshop to disseminate findings and encourage managers to adopt recommendations in subsequent plans.


Project researchers met with state and local managers and planners during the two-day workshop to provide information on the NC SLR Project’s findings, which included advances in understanding sea level rise and storm surge impacts on coastal ecosystems and the development of maps, modeling, and forecasting tools to aid managers and decision makers. Breakout sessions were also held that summarized researcher capabilities, identified management needs, and discussed ways in which the NC SLR Project models could be used to answer these needs.

Management needs potentially answered by the NC SLR Project included:

  • Incremental predictions of wetland stability;
  • Location of migrating and non-migrating wetlands;
  • Vertical elevation information across habitats;
  • Effects of different sea level rise scenarios on multiple parameters and the resulting impacts to coastal habitats;
  • Current and future information on estuarine habitats and the resulting effects on estuarine dependent species;
  • Impacts of various shoreline stabilization techniques on nearshore and adjoining habitats;
  • Restoration guidelines for estuarine habitats;
  • Storm hazard planning and response;
  • Effects of sea level rise on salinity;
  • Fate of the Outer Banks;
  • How sea level rise will affect inlets;
  • Effects of sea level rise and storminess on tidal range;
  • Erosion rates of estuarine shorelines as well as the location of stable and unstable shorelines;
  • Better tidal measurements within areas with small tidal signals; and
  • Identifying and better quantifying ecosystem services.

Outcomes and Conclusions

In October 2009, the results of the workshop were summarized in the white paper, NOAA Workshop North Carolina Sea Level Rise Project: Application to Management. The white paper suggests several ways that the NC SLR Project results and tools can aid coastal managers and decision makers in North Carolina. Recommended next steps include the involvement of potential users to help develop better visualization tools, geospatial tools, and mapping representations, as well as training workshops for managers.


Information was collected from interviews and online resources. Updated 12/18/10


Kershner, J. (2010). North Carolina Sea Level Rise Project [Case study on a project of NOAA's Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: (Last updated December 2010)

Project Contact(s)

The Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research (CSCOR) uses a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding and predicting the impacts of natural and anthropogenic influences on coastal regional ecosystems, communities, and economies.


Scale of Project
Community / Local
State / Provincial
Sector Addressed
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Habitat extent
Sea level rise
Storms or extreme weather events
Climate Type
1-3 years
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Capacity Building
Design or reform institutions
Coordinate planning and management
Create/enhance resources and tools
Governance and Policy
Effort Stage
In progress