Impact of climate change

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North Carolina is already experiencing the effects of rising sea levels (Long Bay raised 2 in. (51 cm.) in the last century) and eroding coastlines. In 1999, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was moved inland 2,900 ft. (884 m.) to prevent its collapse into the Atlantic. Rising temperatures and reduced rainfall 1999-2002 caused a severe drought. Climate models vary on temperature increases for North Carolina, from 1-5 degrees F (0.52.7 degrees C) in all seasons (less change in winter and summer, and more change in autumn and spring) by the end of the century. Potential risks include anticipated rising sea levels of an additional 12 in. or 31 cm., (causing loss of coastal wetlands, beach erosion, saltwater contamination of drinking water, and damage/ decreasing stability of low-lying property and infrastructure) along with population displacement.

North Carolina's shoreline is especially susceptible to rising sea levels and tidal changes. Coastal marsh area could expand into low-lying areas and current coastal wetlands could disappear. North Carolina experiences frequent hurricane activity and landfall, and higher sea levels would have the potential to cause more damage with the storm surge. Higher temperatures could cause an increase in frequency and intensity of summer thunderstorms, causing flash flooding, decreased water supplies, changes in agriculture (cotton yield unaffected, rising corn and hay yields, and lower yields of wheat). While the forests may not change much, the types of trees growing in the forests could change with loss of trees unsuited to higher temperatures.

Human health risks include contracting certain infectious diseases from water contamination or disease-carrying vectors such as mosquitoes, ticks, and rodents. Warmer temperatures would increase the incidence of heat-related illnesses and lead to higher concentrations of ground-level ozone pollution, causing respiratory illnesses (diminished lung function, asthma, and respiratory inflammation).

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