Analyzing Future Urban Growth and Flood Risk in North Carolina

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Development along coastal North Carolina has been rapidly increasing, causing significant wetland reduction. The region’s planners recognized the importance of wetlands for flood protection and other ecosystem services, and felt the need to promote regulations to help preserve these valuable resources while planning for future growth.


To help identify areas vulnerable to growth, planners used Pender County, North Carolina as their study area because of its diverse representation of agriculture, small town, rivers, protected lands, and rapid urban growth. The planners analyzed flooding from stormwater and Hurricane Florence using various data sources. They analyzed land cover change within five classifications (water, emergent wetland, forest, agriculture, and development) using 30-meter resolution CCAP Regional Land Cover data from NOAA. To map wetlands in coastal areas, they used a higher resolution approach that included aerial photography from various sources. In addition, the team used census and business data to determine the current level of risk in areas with high urbanization and made comparisons to areas with low urbanization. This helped planners understand trends in the development growth of the county.


Results from this study have helped inform local government planning regulations. Local decision makers can identify areas vulnerable to development and help promote more sustainable development practices. Establishing development regulations will help protect wetlands, which in turn protect the built environment from flooding. In addition, these methods are transferable to other areas facing similar challenges. (2021)

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Researchers used 30-meter resolution NOAA land cover change data to map trends in urban growth and wetland loss. Credit: Dr. Joanne N. Halls, Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of North Carolina Wilmington.