South Carolina Aquarium looks to wade into climate research

The South Carolina Aquarium wants to expand its research about the seas to include climate change.

The South Carolina Aquarium wants to dive into how climatic events such as rising sea levels could affect the Lowcountry and other East Coast cities.

The waterfront Charleston visitor attraction is seeking $1.5 million to partly pay for research from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science to specifically look at Charleston, Savannah and Hilton Head Island.

Kate Ditloff, spokeswoman for the aquarium, said the project would be funded through grants or other private sources. It’s not seeking public money, she said.

The Virginia institute, which is under the College of William and Mary and is based in Gloucester, Va., previously has conducted studies on Washington, D.C., and the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in the New York area, said Albert George, the aquarium’s conservation director.

“We’re funding (the) cutting-edge research of bringing an international research team to this region,” George said.

The aquarium also plans to involve area leaders and the public as part of the project, which would take about three years to complete.

George, whose position is new to the aquarium, used hurricanes as an example of a coastal storm whose impacts could be more powerful than in the past.

“If a Category 2 storm were to come back to this part of the world ... the sheer volume of water would be dramatically different than it was 50 years ago because a foot of water’s been almost added to the water column,” George said.

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He noted that some residents in the coastal area tend not to get overly concerned about lower-ranked storms.

“People here ... they don’t turn over in their beds for Category 2s because they have a history in their mind of ‘Oh, Category 1, Category 2, I don’t even get worried,’ not knowing that the world has dramatically changed,” George said. “Their lives could be in great danger.”

Reach Allison Prang at 843-937-5705 or follow her on Twitter @AllisonPrang.