Floyd's Carolina Floods
A Natural Disaster Becomes Research

Hurricane Floyd churned the coastal waterways of North Carolina like a spoon in a mixing bowl. Following Floyd, record breaking rains continued to soak the area,  washing mountains of sediment and waste into the water system. Now rivers and tributaries along the Atlantic are choked, and major ecological changes are happening. Levels of dissolved oxygen in the water have dropped dramatically as organic matter decomposes, and aquatic life is threatened in dozens of estuaries and peripheral habitats. For people who make their home in the region, the flood that began with Floyd was just the beginning. As illustrated in the following images, the changes to the area since the rainy season began will have lasting repercussions for hundreds of thousands of people.

Read the Official Press Release

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September 16, 1999 September 17, 1999 September 23, 1999 October 26, 1999


From space, Landsat 7 captures the massive flow of sedimentation and waste runoff in the area most affected by flooding. Notice the dark coloration in the engorged waterways, indicating heavy concentrations of organic material that's been washed into the water system.

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September 23, 1999 September 23, 1999 September 23, 1999

Landsat Movie (3.1 MB)

SeaWiFS Movie (3.1 MB)



In the images above, notice how the Pamlico River swells far past its banks due to heavy rains. The sequence starts with an image prior to the flood taken on July 7th. The second image comes from September 23rd, following Hurricanes Floyd and Irene.


The Sea Viewing Wide Field of View Sensor, or SeaWiFS, instrument took the following sequence of images over a period of weeks in late summer and early fall. The sequence begins prior to the storm season. The mass of clouds that appears is Hurricane Floyd, grinding into the Carolina coast. Following Floyd, notice how the images show dramatic changes of color in the waterways as they flow towards the ocean. This is particularly visible around Cape Hatteras; the dark mass of water there is sediment trapped by the barrier islands.

SeaWiFS is designed to look at ocean color specifically. In the case of these changes to the coast of North Carolina, the instrument is particularly useful in detecting system wide changes to the environment.


SeaWiFS is the scientific portion of the SeaStar satellite, orbiting The Earth at an altitude of 705 kilometers. By providing a regular picture of the planet's color, SeaWiFS helps researchers learn about the state of the world's interconnected ecosystems. SeaStar blasted into space on August 1, 1997, lifted by an extended Pegasus rocket. SeaWiFS is considered a low cost mission, many orders of magnitude less expensive than earlier Earth observing instruments. One of its great assets is its full time dedication to one particular aspect of study, in this case ocean color. By exclusively focusing on one point of study, the SeaWiFS project team has been able to concentrate their research into discrete, highly defined areas of study. Further, the full time focus on one area of data collection has presented certain topical questions that until now had never been asked.


The Landsat data used for this image comes from Landsat 7. From an altitude of 438 miles, Landsat 7 can see surface features as small as 15 meters, providing world wide land resource information for a diverse range of uses. The satellite is part of a global research effort called the Earth Science Enterprise, which seeks to acquire a long term understanding of the changes to our planet. Landsat 7 is the final in a series of satellites. It roared into orbit aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket, launched on April 15, 1999 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Managed and developed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Lockheed constructed Landsat 7 at their facility in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Data is available to researchers through a browsable internet interface, and can be delivered at a relatively low cost to users.

NASA launched the first Landsat spacecraft on July 23, 1972.

Credits for LandSat images:
Credits for SeaWiFS images:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
United States Geological Survey
    NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

For additional information, check out these related sites
SeaWiFs Project
EOS Terra Science Outreach Team
United States Geological Survey --
Science Visualization Studio

NOTE: All SeaWiFs images and data presented on this website are for research and educational use only. All commercial use of SeaWiFs data must be coordinated with ORBIMAGE.

  Keith Koehler  (757) 824-1579
  David Steitz (202) 358-1730

Producer:  Michael Starobin

Last Revised: February 4, 2019 at 06:02 PM EST