Hurricanes

Researchers use Matthew to study storm effects on rivers

Posted November 16

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— Current estimates suggest that Hurricane Matthew caused about $2 billion in damage to North Carolina.

Much of the damage was caused by flooding as rivers ran over their banks, taking excess rain water and runoff from the center of the state to the coast.

Following Matthew, a crew now motors up and down the Neuse and Pamlico rivers collecting samples of water to test.

"We want to be able to study how these large events impact the estuaries so we can better protect our waterways in the future," said University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researcher Alex Hounshell.

Hans Pearl, a UNC professor, is the lead scientist on the study.

"We got about the entire years’ worth of nutrient loading in the system within a two or three week period," Pearl said. "Nutrients are a good thing up to a certain point, and then you get too much of a good thing."

The nutrients come from fertilizers, animal waste and decomposing vegetation picked up by flood water.

"We've already seen the effect of water coming from Kinston, in fact, we've seen the effect of run-off coming from the entire catchment now," said Technician Randy Sloup.

Hounshell believes the study can jump start a grass roots effort to reduce excess nutrients downstream.

"If people kind of think about how much fertilizer they are using on their lawns, maybe they can start to reduce what they are putting in the land, and eventually gets down to the estuary," Hounshell said.

Pearl said the study can also with even greater goals.

"One of the things you have to really ask yourself, Floyd was declared a 500-year flood event. Now, Matthew has been defined as something on the same scale," Pearl said. "How can we have two 500-year flood events within 20 years? That's really causing us to think things are changing in terms of intensity and magnitude of these storm."

North Carolina State University is also working on the study.

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