North Carolina’s Outer Banks—known as Pine Island in the area shown in this image—protects a network of interconnected waterways, including Currituck Sound, a shallow, 3-mile-wide water body; the North River; and the well-known Albemarle Sound. Wakes from barges on the Intracoastal Waterway appear on the North River, which provides a connection between the Hampton Roads area to the north and Pamlico Sound to the south.
Farmland (light colored patches at top left) and urbanized areas (gray areas on land at image center) occupy all available “high” ground, which is still only a few feet above sea level in this area. This astronaut photograph illustrates how population density increases near the coastline. Large, angular patches of farmland with low building densities give way to smaller farms and urban lots on the spit of land between the North River estuary and Currituck Sound. Two golf courses, identified by manicured green fairways, appear in the center of the spit. Areas with the greatest building density crowd the narrow strip of Pine Island, where small lots occupy all available dry land. In the decade before this photograph was taken, coastal population increased while farm-dominated counties just inland lost population.
Large, darker areas at image left are wetlands. Many of these regions enjoy strict protection, thanks to their importance to the fishing industry, and their ability to reduce storm surges. Atlantic hurricanes regularly batter North Carolina’s coast, and evidence of that activity lingers in the form of a likely washover fan, a common feature seen on the inland side of low barrier islands from the mid-Atlantic states to Texas. These fan-shaped sediment deposits result from hurricane-generated storm surges flooding over a barrier island. They are a stark reminder of the vulnerability of the Outer Banks to storm flooding.
Winds produce complex patterns on the water surface, captured in sunglint—light reflected directly back to a satellite sensor, or in this case, the camera lens of the astronaut taking the photograph. The day this photograph was taken, winds blew from the west, as shown by many stream-lines on the water surfaces. Sand mobilized by waves produced a light zone on the seaward side of Pine Island.