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Past and future sea-level rise along the coast of North Carolina, USA

Abstract

We evaluate relative sea level (RSL) trajectories for North Carolina, USA, in the context of tide-gauge measurements and geological sea-level reconstructions spanning the last ~11,000 years. RSL rise was fastest (~7 mm/yr) during the early Holocene and slowed over time with the end of the deglaciation. During the pre-Industrial Common Era (i.e., 0–1800 CE), RSL rise (~0.7 to 1.1 mm/yr) was driven primarily by glacio-isostatic adjustment, though dampened by tectonic uplift along the Cape Fear Arch. Ocean/atmosphere dynamics caused centennial variability of up to ~0.6 mm/yr around the long-term rate. It is extremely likely (probability P=0.95) that 20th century RSL rise at Sand Point, NC, (2.8 ± 0.5 mm/yr) was faster than during any other century in at least 2,900 years. Projections based on a fusion of process models, statistical models, expert elicitation, and expert assessment indicate that RSL at Wilmington, NC, is very likely (P=0.90) to rise by 42–132 cm between 2000 and 2100 under the high-emissions RCP 8.5 pathway. Under all emission pathways, 21st century RSL rise is very likely (P>0.90) to be faster than during the 20th century. Due to RSL rise, under RCP 8.5, the current ‘1-in-100 year’ flood is expected at Wilmington in ~30 of the 50 years between 2050-2100.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the American Climate Prospectus research team for assisting with the development of the sea-level rise projections, E.Morrow for retrieving the CESM ocean dynamic sea-level change from the CMIP5 archive, C. Zervas for assistance with the NC tide-gauge data, and C. Hay for helpful comments. Funding was provided by the Risky Business Project, National Science Foundation awards EAR 1052848, EAR 1402017, OCE 1458904 and ARC 1203415, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration grant NA11OAR4310101, and New Jersey Sea Grant project 6410-0012. C. Tebaldi is supported by the Regional and Global Climate Modeling Program of the U.S. Department of Energy’s, Office of Science (BER), Cooperative Agreement DE-FC02-97ER62402. This paper is a contribution to International Geoscience Program project 588 ‘Preparing for coastal change’ and the PALSEA2 (Palaeo-Constraints on Sea-Level Rise) project of Past Global Changes/IMAGES (International Marine Past Global Change Study).

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Correspondence to Robert E. Kopp.

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Kopp, R.E., Horton, B.P., Kemp, A.C. et al. Past and future sea-level rise along the coast of North Carolina, USA. Climatic Change 132, 693–707 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-015-1451-x

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