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Rising sea levels threaten Outer Banks

Jan. 17, 2010 at 1:44 AM   |   Comments

RALEIGH, N.C., Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Rising sea levels threaten North Carolina's famed Outer Banks and the marshes they protect in Pamlico Sound, scientists say.

A two-day forum in Raleigh, the state capital, ended Friday with a discussion by scientists and engineers on the effects of rising oceans on the coastline, The Charlotte Observer reported. The forum was sponsored by the state Division of Coastal Management.

Scientists predicted moderate sea level rise for the next 25 years. But they said the rate will accelerate and the water level could be as much as 4.5 feet higher by 2100.

If the ocean breaks through the Outer Banks, Pamlico Sound would become part of the open Atlantic. Coastal marshes would become saltier, threatening marine plants and animals that now develop in brackish water.

Scientists estimated 2,300 square miles of land would either be underwater or subjected to frequent flooding.

The panel urged the state to set up more monitoring stations. The state already takes rising sea levels into account when designing new roads and bridges in coastal areas, officials said.

"Having to be out there planning things that will last 50 years or so is perhaps the most challenging aspect," said Margery Overton, who teaches civil engineering at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

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