Research & Commentary: Sea-Level Rise in North Carolina

Published June 27, 2012

The North Carolina House is considering a bill that would reassess how state agencies extrapolate data on future rates of sea-level rise affecting coastal communities. The bill would give a state agency, the Coastal Resources Commission, the authority to define rates of sea-level rise for regulatory purposes.

The commission, along with another agency, the Division of Coastal Management, would then estimate future rates of sea-level rise using only peer-reviewed, historical data generated through scientifically and statistically accepted techniques. This would prohibit the use of unreliable computer models and isolated events to impose regulations on activities speculated as contributing to rising sea levels. The House bill would increase reliance on verified data from agencies such as NOAA and would use trends with a statistical 95 percent confidence interval.

Opponents say the bill unfairly limits the use of scientific data, putting the public at risk because the state will inadequately inform people of potentially hazardous sea-level rise. They also claim the use of historical trends cannot by itself predict potentially hazardous sea-level rise. Their suggested computer models, however, are not always empirical or transparent, and they allow state planners to exaggerate potential harm from sea-level rise and impose unnecessary regulations that inflict significant costs on state taxpayers and residents of coastal communities. Regulations that create costs that exceed their benefits restrict economic growth.

Predictions based upon historical trends are more reliable than model outputs, which are speculative and void of scientific reliability. Legislation regarding technical matters should be based on transparent, objective data developed through scientific methodology.

The following documents provide additional information about the sea-level rise and North Carolina House Bill 819.

Sinking Under Their False Sea-Level Predictions, Alarmists Change Their Data
Heartland Institute Senior Fellow James M. Taylor discusses how recent computer models have failed to accurately predict rising sea-level rates consistent with global warming alarmist claims. In the twentieth century, sea level rose by seven inches. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts it will rise by more than twice that amount in the twenty-first century. After the first decade, however, sea-level rise is on pace to be just slightly above what it was last century.

Balance Needed on Coverage of Sea-Level Rise
Commonwealth Foundation Senior Fellow Paul Chesser discusses in the Carolina Journal how the implications of North Carolina House Bill 819 are much larger than environmental activists or the media let on. He also notes the large amount of money behind those loudest in support of alarmist claims about climate change.

Rise of Sea Levels Is “The Greatest Lie Ever Told”
Columnist Christopher Booker writes for London’s Telegraph about Swedish geologist and physicist Nils-Axel Morner, former chairman of the INQUA International Commission on Sea Level Change and possibly the world’s leading expert on sea levels. Morner says computer models often run contradictory to his numerous studies on sea-level change, which are empirical and based on the scientific method. 

Sea-Level Rise, Melting Glaciers, and North Carolina Law
Bill Chameides, dean and Nicholas Professor of the Environment at Duke University, lambastes House Bill 819, claiming it ignores potential sea-level rise that threatens North Carolina coasts. 

The Point of This Bill Is to Conform Policy to Science
NC-20 Science Adviser Dave Burton examines the relationship between rising carbon dioxide levels and rising sea level for North Carolina’s coastline. After discovering a lack of direction in the data, he concludes a linear projection of past sea-level rise is the safest way to make predictions. 

A Different Perspective
Physicist John Droz evaluates the scientific assessment report of North Carolina’s future sea-level rise performed by the North Carolina Coastal Resource Commission’s Science Panel. He finds its research, analysis, and definition of science deeply problematic. Droz also performs a line-by-line critique of the state agency’s report and points out numerous unsupported assumptions and questionable science. 

For further information on this subject, visit the Environment & Climate News Web site at, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

Nothing in this message is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. If you have any questions about this issue or the Heartland Web site, contact Heartland Institute Policy Analyst Taylor Smith at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.