North Carolina Sentinel Site Cooperative

North Carolina Coast


The North Carolina Sentinel Site Cooperative encompasses the central N.C. coast near a NOAA laboratory in Beaufort. This location is well positioned because it represents median conditions for the N.C. coast and is a region with a high concentration of marine science facilities. Future expansion of this network will include the entire N.C. coast, which offers a gradient in sea level rise vulnerability from low-lying, lagoonal, microtidal estuaries to small, highly-flushed, mesotidal estuaries. The coast of North Carolina has one of the highest vulnerabilities to sea level change on the Atlantic coast due to its high wave exposure, low-relief coastal slope, and abundance of barrier islands. The high concentration of marine science facilities, existing water level and shoreline monitoring stations, updated seamless bathytopology, and layers of coastal and marine protected areas ensures that regional sea level changes and their consequences will be documented with unparalleled accuracy to inform coastal management decisions. Biogeographic provinces overlap on the N.C. coast where signals of response to climate change will be first detected and most significant.  Furthermore, the extensive marsh and seagrass systems, sweeping beaches, and sheltered harbors support a high concentration of coastal commerce including shipping, commercial and recreational fishing, and tourism. These industries and associated populations are highly vulnerable to sea level rise nationwide. Thus, the lessons learned at the N.C. Sentinel Site Cooperative will be transferable to regions with similar economies.

Focus Areas

Sea level change and coastal inundation adaptation, planning.

Available Assets:

  • NOAA National Water Level Observation Network station in Beaufort, N.C.
  • 28 Surface Elevation Tables established between 2004-2007 in salt marsh habitats
  • High-resolution Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) imagery for the entire coastal zone
  • Continuous, in-situ, water quality monitoring for temperature, pH, turbidity, salinity, and dissolved oxygen
  • Aerial imagery and photo-interpreted Geographical Information System (GIS) layers of seagrass distribution from 2006-2008
  • Geodetic infrastructure, including National Geodetic Survey benchmarks and Continuously Operating Reference stations
  • NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science partnership with National Geodetic Survey on Height Modernization Program
  • Marsh vegetation surveys conducted semi-annually, 2004-present, through a North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserves-National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science collaboration (funded by NOAA Restoration Center and the Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology)
  • NOAA Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research regionalized forecasts on geomorphologic, ecological and saltmarsh response to sea level rise
  • Bathytopographic GIS providing elevations from the continental shelf to the fall line to facilitate inundation forecasting
  • NOAA Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research studies in progress: "Response of coastal marshes to sea level rise" and "Forecast influence of natural and anthropogenic factors estuarine shoreline erosion rates."
  • National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on erosion and sea level rise issues related to the Atlantic Coastal Waterway
  • North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve's Coastal Training Program provides capacity to translate scientific findings for management applications

Partners (Currently Involved):


Other Agencies and Organizations