Sea Level Rise Adaptation Report for the City of Wilmington, North Carolina

Created: 1/20/2010 - Updated: 3/02/2020


Wilmington, North Carolina is in the process of writing a sea level rise adaptation report, which is expected to be released in 2010. The report will assess the likely impacts of sea level rise and present adaptation strategies. Information from this report may be incorporated into the county’s coastal zone management plan update and will be used to educate city officials.


The City of Wilmington is located on southeastern coast of North Carolina. In the 2000 census, the population was estimated to be 75,838 people living within the 41.5 square mile city area. Wilmington has a major port located along the Cape Fear River to the west.

The State of North Carolina requires that all coastal counties manage and update their coastal zone management (CZM) plans every 5-6 years. The City of Wilmington will be updating their CZM plan in 2010-11 and city planners want to proactively incorporate the impacts of sea level rise. To date, there is not a mandate for city planners to consider the effects of climate change in North Carolina.


In 2009, Wilmington began drafting a sea level rise adaptation plan to address the local impacts climate change may have within their jurisdiction. To begin the report, staff first researched sea level rise reports and adaptation plans from across the United States. Drawing from case studies and reports from across the nation, the City of Wilmington began to draft a sea level rise adaptation report. It quickly became apparent to staff that they were missing key elements of the problem. The staff was reliant upon large-scale projections of sea level rise which only offer a crude estimate of sea level rise at the local scale. Detailed, local scenarios of sea level rise would allow city planners to utilize GIS to develop inundation maps under a variety of future conditions.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The report will include a series of matrices looking at impacts to and adaptation strategies dealing with: protecting natural resources, aquifer saltwater intrusion, damage to infrastructure, loss of public access to shoreline, and loss of life and property. For each issue, short-term and long-term adaptation strategies were created that consider the ecological impacts, feasibility, government application, and cost to help city planners prioritize strategies. Currently, the report is going through an internal review and there are plans to allow for stakeholder input once the report has been approved by the city’s elected board.

The City of Wilmington is one of the first jurisdictions to create a sea level rise adaptation plan in North Carolina. As such, part of the value and purpose of the report will be to help to educate the leadership and begin a dialogue on regional climate change impacts.


Information gathered from interviews and online resources. Last updated on 1/20/10.


Feifel, K. (2010). Sea Level Rise Adaptation Report for the City of Wilmington, North Carolina [Case study on a project of the City of Wilmington]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated January 2010)

Project Contact(s)

Position: Senior Environmental Planner


Scale of Project
Community / Local
Sector Addressed
Conservation / Restoration
Development (socioeconomic)
Land Use Planning
Tourism / Recreation
Transportation / Infrastructure
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Culture / communities
Habitat extent
Infrastructure damage
Salinization / Saltwater intrusion
Sea level rise
Species of concern
Storms or extreme weather events
Climate Type
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Natural Resource Management / Conservation
Incorporate future conditions into natural resources planning and policies
Reduce non-climate stressors
Capacity Building
Design or reform institutions
Increase organizational capacity
Initiate targeted research program
Sociopolitical Setting
Effort Stage
In progress