HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WPDE) — When the waters rise, there is often the classic culprit many outside of the research field point to; climate change. However, is there more to it when it comes to our local water levels? That's the focus of a new research endeavor over at the Coastal Carolina University Marine Science Center.
Dr. Till Hanebuth and his Coastal Geosystems Research Lab will work for roughly four years to dig into a number of factors that contribute to a rising water table and lower land elevation along the coast.
"Definitely there is more behind it, why our sea levels and why our water levels come up. Not just climate change and global sea-level rise. So this raises a lot of questions," Hanebuth said. "Many people here observe that somehow the water levels are coming up since maybe 5 years or a little longer. There's something going on."
Hanebuth said the idea was born out of a graduate thesis one of his students launched a year or two ago. He has published several research articles about soil accumulation or loss along the SC northern coast known as the Long Bay. It stretches from the Winyah Bay to Murrells Inlet and continues across the Grand Strand into Little River.
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Hanebuth said a lot of the data for how this area has been altered by human interaction over the decades remains mostly anecdotal and not scientific.
"We are just blind here, it's a black spot," Hanebuth said. "We just need to show I think what's going on here, and how we with development urbanization, infrastructure, drainage of wetlands, filling of drained wetlands. How we contribute to an acceleration of land sinking."
How will they do that? Hanebuth and his team plan to measure water tables and sediment layer levels. They also intend to place sensors throughout developing sites to see how soil compaction is impacting water levels. A key issue for their research is water runoff and intrusion into the groundwater table.
"The more consolidated a soil is the less water it can infiltrate," Hanebuth said. "We also very much like to seal it so we convert a natural system evaporating a lot through the vegetation and the soils and the taking of groundwater, building groundwater and delaying or reducing the surface runoff into a system which is dominated by surface runoff."
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The research will also include help from the College of Charleston and the SC Geological Survey. Hanebuth said the grant to help fund the work comes from the SC Department of Natural Resources, specifically their archeological department.
Hanebuth says this is because they plan to look deep into how the rising water levels have impacted potential archeological sites in Georgetown and Horry County. He says they may even dive into the plate tectonics of the region possibly hunting information in the soil that may paint of picture of the region pre-settlement.
"We have to find the right spots and take sediment cores so really drill into old material and reconstruct," Hanebuth said.
That work alone may take years to help formulate clear findings. In the end, he said they hope to provide a more informative outlook on how the growth and current interaction with the local watershed will continue to be impacted by rising waters.
"What really matters is how fast does the water level come up. But if we know the reasons why then we maybe can work on it to delay it or even to reduce it," Hanebuth said.
You can look first hand at how rising sea levels impact our coastal community. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a detailed map that provides visual predictors for how sea-level rise impacts tidal areas.