Researchers study how climate change impacts North Carolina

Researchers study how climate change impacts North Carolina
Published: Oct. 28, 2021 at 4:21 PM EDT
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MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (WITN) - Fighting climate change and the devastating impacts global warming will have on us has been a major talking point for many ahead of the COP26 Climate Change Conference meeting in Scotland at the end of October.

While for some, climate change seems like a far-off problem, scientists in our area say that’s not the case, and we are already seeing many of the impacts of a warming climate and sea-level rise.

Researchers at UNC like Dr. Miyuki Hino are studying the way the rise of sea level is impacting our coastal communities right now.

Hino has sensors in Beaufort, Carteret County where she is measuring how often, how high, and for how long water rises causes flooding.

The so-called “sunny day flooding” is when localized flooding causes problems for homeowners, towns, and businesses, and the flooding is not caused by a severe storm or heavy downpour but by rising tides.

“Trying to understand how sea-level rise makes coastal flooding much more common and much more frequent, trying to understand how that really frequent chronic flooding affects people and businesses in those communities,” explained Dr. Hino.

Hino says these events aren’t happening every day or even every week right now. But the sensors she has deployed have only been in place for three months and they’ve already recorded eight flooding events.

“They are often just a block or two and they come in with the tide and out with the tide and they might only be there for a couple of hours and the impact then [is] the disruption to daily life, the fact that you can’t commute to work your normal route or a business can’t open because there is water right outside of their door.”

Dr. Miyuki Hino, UNC researcher

If action isn’t taken, that could be the case, and it could happen sooner than we think, in less than 10 years for some communities.

Coastal flooding isn’t the only problem climate change is causing.

Dr. John Bruno is a marine ecologist who has spent years studying and tracking coral reefs, and while most of his research is focused on the Caribbean, he also utilizes data from other scientists all around the world.

“Most of my research is on coral reefs primarily in the Caribbean so beyond just the basic science of how they work and who eats who, for like 25 years we’ve been documenting change, primarily losses of reef-building, the corals that build up the habitats,” Dr. Bruno explained.

Unfortunately, the data they’ve collected paints a grim picture of what’s happening underneath the surface of these tropical waters.

“We’ve lost something like two-thirds of the world’s reef-building corals so we haven’t really lost whole reefs but the corals that create them have gotten really thinned out so it’s like going into a forest and clear-cutting like two-thirds of the trees.”

Dr. John Bruno, UNC marine ecologist

Coral reefs are critically important to our oceans, and not just to the fish and other animals that live in and around them, but they also act as a wave catcher, protecting the islands they sit in front of.

While North Carolina doesn’t have coral reefs, the ramifications of warming waters and pollution could impact the fish and other organisms that call our waters home, which in turn could impact fishing, tourism, and many other aspects of our lives.

All of this may sound frightening, but scientists agree we’re not hopeless yet.

They say we are actually at a tipping point in the world of climate change and experts agree that if major changes are made and greenhouse gas emissions are cut we could turn things around.

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