Minimize Cape Hatteras National Seashore

This image shows a moment in time. Cape Hatteras National Seashore on 7 June 2015, captured by Landsat-8. These islands have been in flux long before the park was established, and they continue to change today.

Not just a preferred holiday or day trip destination, there is evidence all around that this beach is not always so serene. The very existence of these barrier islands is due to the power of wind and water.

The national park's origins date back to the 1930s, when Congress authorised the creation of this first "national seashore park" in the United States. It wasn't until 1953 that the National Park Service acquired enough land to establish the park, and another five years before the park could formally open.

Skinny parts of the island chain, which appear mostly white without any green vegetation, are "simple" barrier islands. These areas are generally eroding and thinning. The shoreline continues to recede and weak spots form, at which point water from the Atlantic Ocean can break through and form an inlet.

The year that these images were acquired was a relatively quiet one for storms. In other years, however, hurricanes have opened multiple inlets in a single season. Within a year or two after an inlet opens up, a flood tide delta forms behind it and continues the natural cycle of rebuilding.

In contrast, the green vegetated areas along the islands are usually wider and older "complex" barrier islands. Still, the wind and waves take a toll, eroding the east-facing shoreline of the cape and moving sand southward.

Areas west of the islands do not escape the forces of nature. Parts of the mainland submerged by rising sea levels have transitioned to sandy shoals, which appear as various shades of white on the west side of Pamlico Sound. These sandy areas have a depth of 10 feet or less. The centre of Pamlico Sound is darker and deeper, about 20 feet.

Storms have even built a mini barrier island on Hatteras Flats—miles out in the sound, but walkable from almost anywhere on the main barrier islands. The flats support rich grass beds that feed the mid-Atlantic fisheries.

View the full resolution image and find out more.

Credit: NASA Earth Observatory - Edited by the eoPortal team.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

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