By Leah Morrissey (left) and Jenna Mayfield (right)
Leah Morrissey is a junior at UNC studying Environmental Studies with a minor in Studio Arts. Leah has been working with the North Carolina Collaboratory since the spring semester 2023 as an Environmental Policy Intern focusing on sustainable solutions and mitigation plans for flooding in North Carolina.
Jenna Mayfield is a junior at UNC majoring in Environmental Science and Information Science with a minor in Sustainability. Jenna has been working with the North Carolina Collaboratory since spring 2023 as Environmental Policy Intern focusing on sunny day flooding in North Carolina.
2021 Flood Study: Overview of Past Work
In 2019, the North Carolina General Assembly appropriated $2 million to the North Carolina Collaboratory to conduct flood resiliency research in eastern NC. The NC Collaboratory Flood Resiliency Study was tasked with studying flooding and resiliency in order to develop an action plan to prepare and mitigate future storm events in eastern NC. During the allotted time, a team of researchers from a diverse range of fields assessed potential practices and impacts of flood resiliency. The study was a collaboration between projects conducted by researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University.
The full study was led by Mike Piehler, the Director of the UNC Institute for the Environment. The study focused on five central topics: floodplain buyouts, natural systems, financial risk, infrastructure, and public health. By carefully analyzing inland flood resiliency from a variety of perspectives, this collaboration yielded results that increase the protection of NC residents through improved preparation, planning, and response to storm and flood events.
The study culminated with the submittal of a final legislative report in June of 2021 with recommendations for policy options and the funding of new programs that could mitigate flooding following storm events.
The Road to Resiliency: NC Collaboratory Resiliency Work
Since submittal of the legislative report in 2021 the NC Collaboratory has continued to support research on flood resiliency topics. As part of that work the Collaboratory and the UNC Institute for the Environment partnered in the creation of the NC Resiliency Flood Hub, which is located on the Collaboratory website. The Flood Hub is a webpage with information on flood related research projects which include flood mapping, mitigation actions, resiliency planning efforts and community impacts from flooding. The Flood Hub is designed to serve as a resource to policymakers, university researchers, and stakeholders.
Sunny Day Flooding
As Collaboratory interns our role is to help translate faculty research into policy briefs and support ongoing projects. One of these projects focuses on sunny day flooding and its effects on the community and infrastructure. Sunny day flooding, also known as high-tide flooding, is caused by rising sea levels. Unlike regular flood events, it floods locations without any significant rainfall. Sunny day flooding is a phenomenon that is mainly prominent in coastal communities. In North Carolina, this includes locations such as the Outer Banks, New Bern, Wilmington, and Carolina Beach.
Sunny day flooding affects communities through infrastructure damage that could damage roads, bridges, and properties which can cause disruptions in transportation. Another issue caused by sunny day flooding is saltwater intrusion which is the infiltration of saltwater into freshwater sources which contaminates drinking water and agriculture irrigation. Saltwater intrudes in the sewage systems and in many cases floods the sewage lines causing contaminated sewage water to be exposed to the community affecting their health. Other effects of sunny day flooding include property damage, economic impact, and community displacement.
There is no silver bullet for solving all issues related to storm and flood events, but long-term practices will serve as ongoing solutions. To increase resiliency, it is necessary to update existing infrastructure, and protect it with methods such as natural infrastructure practices. Examples of natural infrastructure practices include floodplain restoration, reforestation, water farming, and open space preservation.
In order to restore natural spaces and prevent further construction on floodplains, floodplain buyouts are another major step on the path to resiliency. Floodplain buyouts are the acquisition and removal of properties built on floodplains. Finally, investing in further research and flood technology, as well as flood education will improve statewide flood protection and planning.
To showcase the research we have conducted during our internship with the NC Collaboratory we have created a story map in ArcGIS. The story map displays information on sunny day flooding and flooding solutions in an interactive and visual format. To view the story map visit:
For more information on the latest flood research in North Carolina please visit the Flood Hub page at: https://collaboratory.unc.edu/highlighted-projects/flood-resiliency-hub/