ECU hosts first ‘HurriCon’

From sea level rise to shoreline impacts to community resilience and more, researchers and presenters from across the country – as well as Puerto Rico – descended on Greenville in February for ECU’s first “HurriCon.”

The research conference, “2020 HurriCon: Science at the Intersection of Hurricanes and the Populated Coast,” was Feb. 27-28 at theMain Campus Student Center.

“Hurricanes are an important aspect of life in eastern North Carolina,” said Jamie Kruse, director of the Center for Natural Hazards Research at ECU. And not just eastern North Carolina, she noted. Presenters talked about the impacts and recovery efforts of hurricanes Harvey and Maria, which struck Houston and Puerto Rico, respectively, in addition to North Carolina’s most recent storms, Florence and Matthew.

The researchers and presenters came from multiple disciplines, including biology, geography, geology, engineering, medicine, humanities and more. Approximately 200 people attended the conference, according to organizers. The National Science Foundation supported the event with $100,000 through a competitive process, Kruse added.

Some attendees also took a bus trip to Princeville and Windsor to see firsthand what hurricanes and related flooding have done to rural communities.

Among the presenters from ECU was Rachel Gittman, an assistant professor of biology who specializes in restoration ecology, marine community ecology, coastal management and policy, and conservation biology. She detailed her work with Devon Eulie of the University of North Carolina Wilmington and Carter Smith of the Duke University Marine Lab in which they surveyed waterfront property owners about their properties and their perception of risk.

It showed owners are most concerned about powerful Category 5 storms, even though one has not struck the state since the Safford-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale has been used to rank hurricane intensity.

“Category 1 (hurricanes are) what North Carolinians are experiencing, but there’s a disconnect to what they think they are vulnerable to,” Gittman said. She surmised people accept repairing damage and worry more about their homes being destroyed. “People are OK with spending a fair amount of cash to create their armored shoreline. It could mean experiencing damage does not mean that person feels vulnerable.”

Reide Corbett, dean and professor of Integrated Coastal Programs and the Department of Coastal Studies and executive director of the Coastal Studies Institute in Wanchese, discussed the potential impacts of sea level rise on North Carolina’s low-lying coastal plain. He’s a coastal oceanographer and geochemist.

“Much of coastal North Carolina is less than a foot above sea level, and we’re talking about 1 to 3 feet of rise in the next 100 years,” he said.