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Coastal Climate
Coastal Climate                                

Coastal Climate Impacts: What You Can Do (pdf 536k)

One of the greatest challenges facing the communities of Coastal South and North Carolina, the stakeholders who use the resources of the region and the many different ecosystems within the region is adapting to present and future climatic change and the impacts of those changes. As a means to address this issue, both the South Carolina and North Carolina Sea Grant Extension Programs together with the Carolinas Integrated Science Assessment (CISA) Program, a NOAA supported program housed at the University of South Carolina, have combined to develop the Coastal Carolina Climate Program. 

The major objectives of this regional program are to:

1)  Develop, evaluate and provide key information on how climatic conditions in Coastal Carolina may be changing at present and what may be expected to happen in the future. This information will be made available to the public, stakeholders, government agencies and educational programs. Differentiating regional climatic variability and changes from global changes will be a significant part of this undertaking. This program will work extensively with both the South and North Carolina State Climate Office.

2)  Develop, evaluate and provide information on the impact of future climatic change on Coastal Carolina. This information includes the effect of sea level rise, changes in hydrological conditions (droughts and wet periods) that will control the water quantity and quality getting into estuarine environments (for example, the salt water wedge), extreme weather events, and changes in environmental conditions necessary to support fisheries and aquaculture (both near and off shore). 


Examples of How We Work:

Initial projects within the Coastal Carolina Climate Program are just underway and in the planning stages. Check back to read about updates in both ongoing and new projects. A more extensive web page that will include links to various web pages of interest to Coastal Carolina climate, information about meetings and projects, and archives of the newsletter to be developed in this program is in the process of being constructed. Once complete, the URL will be listed here.

Future Fresh and Salt Water Variability
Plans are underway to evaluate how changes in climate will alter future hydrological conditions in the Yadkin-Pee Dee drainage basin as part of the CISA program. The key question to be addressed in this program is "How will industries (e.g., energy, paper, commercial fishing), and coastal resource managers adapt to changes in the fresh water supply they have come to expect?"

As a means to answering this question, this study seeks to understand the threat of salt-water intrusion under future climatic and sea level scenarios, investigate potential impacts, and develop tools to enhance resilience of coastal activities dependent on fresh water. An example of how climate and weather conditions, particularly, extreme events can affect hydrological conditions within the coastal environment is the input of excessive runoff into coastal areas from Hurricane Floyd in 1999. This picture shows how flood waters and sediment input into the estuaries of Coastal Carolina following Floyd severely impact those areas. The flooding associated with Floyd helped to establish the Coastal and Inland Flooding Observation and Warning (CI-FLOW) program, a collaborative program among various organizations including NOAA, National Severe Storm Laboratory (NSSL), Sea Grant and North Carolina State University. The Coastal Carolina Climate program will be part of that effort. 

Image from with pre-storm on left, post-storm on right.

NOAA hurricane map

Winter Storm Impacts
A program is being planned to categorize winter storms (nor’easters) that affect the Carolinas with an emphasis on how these storms may produce extended periods of coastal erosion and flooding within the estuarine environment. Part of this program will be collaboration with the CI-FLOW Program. The categorization scheme has been developed for winter storms in the eastern U.S., but this proposed effort will modify the scheme to apply it specifically to Coastal Carolina. This project will be a joint collaboration among other Sea Grant programs (such as, Coastal Processes) and coastal managers within the region.

Sea Level Rise
A major impact of ongoing and future global climatic change is rising sea level and given the flat coastal region of the Carolinas, even a minor rise in sea level can have widespread effects on the region. This program will work with coastal managers and other government agencies to understand better what the numbers mean.  For example, the table below shows the results of several studies that have estimated the amount of sea level rise (SLR) with future warming and what these particular studies have used in drawing their conclusions. This information was compiled by Nathan Kettle, graduate student in the Department of Geography, University of South Carolina and part of the Carolina Integrated Science Assessment (CISA) Program. The Coastal Climate Program will also work with individuals who have evaluated the history of sea level change, such as those at the Center for Marine and Wetland Studies at Coastal Carolina University, and its impact in the development of the present coastal landscape in the Carolinas. 

Case Study

Study Area


Project Description

Factors Considered

Key Findings


US coastal communities


Estimate regional variations in SLR

Vertical movement of land that changes relative SLR

Relative SLR in Wilmington, NC is 1.8 mm/yr (similar to the global average), while
relative SLR in Charleston, SC is 3.2 mm/yr (greater than the global average)


US Atlantic and Gulf Coasts


Create maps of land vulnerable to SLR.

North Carolina has the third largest area of land less than 1.5 meters above sea level in the U.S.


Fort Moultrie (Charleston), SC


Calculate extent of coastal wetlands change with various SLR scenarios.

Low and high tide.

80% of coastal wetlands will be lost if the high end scenario (124 cm) of SLR occurrs by 2100.


Wampee, SC Hilton Head, SC


Determine how much land would be permanently lost due to SLR and episodically inundated from storm surge.

Sedimentation and glacial rebound affect local SLR.

Predicted losses due to inundation are about 2.4 times higher in Hilton Head than in Wampee, SC.


Charleston, SC

2025 and 2075

Examine the potential impacts of three SLR scenarios

Shorelines are predicted to change and the 100-year flood plain expands.

Case Studies

1.  R. J. Nicholls, S. P. Leatherman, Coastal Management 24, 301 (1996).
2.  J. Titus, G., C. Richman, Climate Research 18, 205 (2001).
3.  J. R. Jensen, D. J. Cowen, J. D. Althausen, S. Narumalani, O. Weatherbee, Geocarto International 4, 87 (1993).
4.  R. C. Daniels, Journal of Coastal Research 8, 56 (1992).
5.  T. W. Kana, J. Michel, M. O. Hayes, J. R. Jensen, in Greenhouse effect and sea level rise: a challenge for this generation M. C. Barth, J. G. Titus, Eds. (Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, Inc., New York, 1984) pp. 105-150.

Last updated: 4/24/2014 2:54:23 PM
Extension – Coastal Climate


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