Possible Ancient River System Discovered off Wilmington, North Carolina

A graphic showing newly discovered underwater paleochannels off of Wilmington, North Carolina shown at 4-meter resolution.
By Alexandra Dawson and Lt. Patrick Debroisse

During the 2023 field season, NOAA Ship Ferdinand R. Hassler was tasked with surveying an area offshore of Wilmington, North Carolina, in the vicinity of Frying Pan Shoals—a dynamic area of dangerously shallow waters. While scientists and crew conducted mapping surveys of the seafloor, they discovered what is believed to be well-preserved ancient remnants of a paleochannel system that could give us a glimpse as to what our North Carolina coastline looked like approximately 20,000 years ago. The location of these newly discovered paleochannels indicates that they may have once been part of North Carolina’s historic Cape Fear River and likely were above sea level during the Last Glacial Maximum.

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