WCU shoreline studies send out call to action

Western Carolina University professor Rob Young has co-authored a book titled The Rising Sea, which bears an “urgent message” for society about the threat posed by global sea-level rise.

Sea-level rise is not merely a future possibility but is happening right now, according to the book and related research co-authored by Young and his friend and mentor from Duke University, Orrin H. Pilkey.

Scientific data indicate that over the last decade, seas worldwide have moved upward an average of slightly more than one-eighth inch per year, and reliable research indicates oceans may climb as much as seven feet in the next 100 years, Young and Pilkey say.

The evidence of sea-level rise is abundantly clear through casual observation at coastlines around the world, according to the authors. For example, a cemetery used by English settlers on North Carolina’s Portsmouth Island has become a salt marsh, “while the old pipes that are supposed to drain surface water runoff from South Carolina’s Charleston Peninsula are now partially blocked at high tides.”

Young and Pilkey argue that societies around the world must begin responding to the challenges of sea-level rise “in a planned and rational way, taking the long-term view” before major cities and other coastal development are inundated.

Young said scientists might still debate whether humans are causing global warming, but no reputable scientists can deny sea-level rise because it has been documented over the past two decades. Young said he believes it is “important for scientists to speak more forcefully” about issues such as sea-level rise to combat the wave of naysayers who use the media to spread non-scientific falsehoods.

“We hope this book will start a national conversation,” he said.

Young is a geosciences professor and director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at WCU, while Pilkey, a pioneer in the study of American shoreline development policy, holds the position of professor emeritus in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke. The two scientists became acquainted when Young was in graduate studies at Duke, and Pilkey was Young’s adviser and teacher.

Young joined WCU’s faculty in 1997. Over the years, he has become a much-sought-after expert on the topics of hurricane impacts and coastal management. 828.227.3822 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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