Zooming around with Zoe: Land loss along Atlantic Coast


GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Normally, it takes tens of hundreds of years for humans to notice sea level rise. But, over the past 20 years, scientists have noticed permanent changes along our coast.

Let’s take a look at land loss and zoom to the Atlantic.

Coastal land loss is a major issue because nearly 10 million Americans live in a coastal floodplain. The Atlantic Coast is particularly vulnerable because of it’s low elevation and the fact that the ground is sinking.

Land along the Atlantic Coast is actually dropping right now because North America is still adjusting to the loss of ice after the last ice age, known as glacial isostatic adjustment. Large ice sheets used to cover most of northern North America and weighed it down while the southern potions rose.

When the ice melted, the land underneath slowly started to level out, which forced the Mid-Atlantic states to sink. This is an extremely slow process that’s still happening today.

The mix of sea level rising and land falling means the Atlantic Coast most likely will see more direct impacts of climate change. Between 1996 and 2011, roughly 20 square miles of land was lost and converted to open water along the Atlantic coast.

For reference, Manhattan is 33 square miles. At least half of land loss was tidal wetland, with less non-tidal wetland and dry land reduction. It’s interesting to note much more land loss occurred in the Southeast compared to Mid-Atlantic states.

Everyone living in Eastern North Carolina needs to be aware of the potential impacts as our elevation sinks and water levels rise. Hopefully, we can adapt and build more resilient cities, but only time will tell what our shorelines will be like in another 50 years.

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