Modeled coastal-ocean pathways of land-sourced contaminants in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence

Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
By: , and 



Extreme precipitation during Hurricane Florence, which made landfall in North Carolina in September 2018, led to breaches of hog waste lagoons, coal ash pits, and wastewater facilities. In the weeks following the storm, freshwater discharge carried pollutants, sediment, organic matter, and debris to the coastal ocean, contributing to beach closures, algae blooms, hypoxia, and other ecosystem impacts. Here, the ocean pathways of land-sourced contaminants following Hurricane Florence are investigated using the Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS) with a river point source with fixed water properties from a hydrologic model (WRF-Hydro) of the Cape Fear River Basin, North Carolina's largest watershed. Patterns of contaminant transport in the coastal ocean are quantified with a finite duration tracer release based on observed flooding of agricultural and industrial facilities. A suite of synthetic events also was simulated to investigate the sensitivity of the river plume transport pathways to river discharge and wind direction. The simulated Hurricane Florence discharge event led to westward (downcoast) transport of contaminants in a coastal current, along with intermittent storage and release of material in an offshore (bulge) or eastward (upcoast) region near the river mouth, modulated by alternating upwelling and downwelling winds. The river plume patterns led to a delayed onset and long duration of contaminants affecting beaches 100 km to the west, days to weeks after the storm. Maps of the onset and duration of hypothetical water quality hazards for a range of weather conditions may provide guidance to managers on the timing of swimming/shellfishing advisories and water quality sampling.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Modeled coastal-ocean pathways of land-sourced contaminants in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence
Series title Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
DOI 10.1029/2023JC019685
Volume 129
Issue 3
Year Published 2024
Language English
Publisher American Geophysical Union
Contributing office(s) Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center
Description e2023JC019685
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