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NASA can see dark, polluted Carolina rivers spilling into the ocean from space

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Experts and officials warned it would happen and it did. But it’s so bad, NASA can see it from space. The image above and others like it show dark, polluted water flowing from rivers in North Carolina into the Atlantic Ocean.

“Nearly 8 trillion gallons of rain fell across North Carolina during the storm, according to the National Weather Service in Raleigh’s estimate. That rain led to catastrophic flooding across the state, and has polluted rivers, streams, creeks and their outflows along the coast, NASA’s satellite images show.”1

According to NASA, “Organic matter—such as leaves, roots, or bark—contain pigments and chemicals (such as tannins) that can color the water when they dissolve. Depending on the amount of dissolved particles, the water in natural-color imagery can appear blue, green, yellow, or brown as the CDOM concentration increases.”2


Very few Carolina rivers or streams are crystal clear because some amount of that organic matter or “tannins” and sediment are normal, so what’s the problem? Well, when heavy amounts of that organic matter wash into waterways because of flood events, “it can become a pollutant, leading to reduced water quality and potentially harming wildlife by changing the pH of the water or its oxygen levels.” 3

Researchers are now linking this water to the deaths of aquatic life and water quality that can be unsafe for humans; hurricane floodwater can also contain harmful bacteria, like Vibrio vulnificus, which, if contracted, can lead to serious infection or death.


“UNC scientist Hans Paerl, N.C. State University scientist Christopher Osburn and their team are studying the flow of the water, largely discolored by organic matter such as leaves, straw, manure, wood, food-processing waste, and other pollutants into North Carolina waterways following hurricanes.

As floodwaters from major storms move downstream, they carry those pollutants, which can create ‘dead zones’ or areas where fish and other animals can’t live. ‘In the discharges after hurricanes Floyd and Matthew, these dead zones grew large enough to affect shellfish and finfish habitats for miles,’ Paerl previously told the N&O. ‘Fish kills lasted for months.’”4


To date, 4.1 million chickens and turkeys, and 5,500 hogs are dead in North Carolina from Florence’s wind and floods, although the numbers are expected to increase. (The livestock death toll is actually double that of Hurricane Matthew in 2016.)


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