From the meditative hum of insects to the energetic swirls of wind and water, the nocturnal environment on the Outer Albemarle Peninsula (OAP) is a wild and beautiful frontier that remains relatively mysterious to scientists and citizens alike. In a quest to better understand the nocturnal environment and dark skies of the region, NC Land of Water (NC LOW) has designed a study to map and characterize the landscape, soundscape, and viewscape of the OAP across four eastern NC counties. The study is led by Dr. Stanley Riggs, coastal and marine geologist at East Carolina University (ECU) and Brian Baker, astronomer with A Time for Science. Field observations are being conducted by local volunteer teams in Tyrell, Washington, and mainland Hyde and Dare counties.
NC LOW is a non-governmental, regional economic development initiative formed in response to ideas and concerns expressed by the region’s residents, leaders, and businesses. The mission of NC LOW is to contribute to long-term sustainable economic development based on the natural resources and cultural history of the region, integrate the diverse areas of the Inner and Outer Banks regions for their mutual benefit, and enhance the quality of life of its residents. Dr. Stanley Riggs is the chair of NC LOW and the principal investigator in this Night-scape resource mapping project.
The Dare County night-scape survey team is comprised of scientists, staff, and students of the Coastal Studies Institute on the ECU Outer Banks Campus. Through their combined effort, data is being collected at five designated sites on the new and full moon phases of each month. In addition to describing the surrounding environment, accessibility, and apparent urban noise and light pollution at each site, researchers use simple instruments provided by NC LOW to measure sky darkness quality, sound, and meteorological parameters like wind, temperature, and humidity. Regional biologists working for local public lands have also been coordinated to help identify the sounds and habitat observed. This combination of data over an ongoing time period will be a substantial step forward in understanding the value and potential of our nocturnal environment as it applies to sustainable economic development in the region.
“The Outer Albemarle Peninsula has an incredible night-scape resource for many reasons,” Dr. Riggs said. “First, the vast area of public wetlands surrounded by the expansive estuarine system, all of which have minimal human activity. Second, the “Big Night Sky” presents an ideal astronomical wonderland that is generally becoming an endangered environment in the east due to ever-increasing light pollution. Third, the 360o horizon vistas provide incredible views of sunrises, sunsets, thunderheads and lightning shows, and glorious zenith and structure of the milky-way. And, fourth, the hot, humid drone of the spring to fall nocturnal soundscape to the dramatic cacophony of the winter waterfowl overflights.”
In the end, data from these surveys will be used to quantify and map the general night-scape and light pollution in the OAP. This knowledge will help shape plans to protect our unique Night-scape resource, responsibly incorporate the resource into ongoing eco-tourism programs, and potentially enable the OAP to earn regional designation as an “International Dark Sky Place.” The Dark Sky Place title—and the accompanying backing of the International Dark Sky Association—helps enhance the visibility of designated locations and fosters eco-tourism and sustainable local economic activity.