Satellites Helping to Detect Raw Sewage Runoff from Hurricance Sandy

hudson river plume© University of Delaware

Hurricane Sandy left behind quite the mess. We've all seen the devastation and know about the power outages because those things are right in front of us, but there are some effects of the storm that aren't quite as easy to detect but are just as important for human safety. I'm talking raw sewage.

Millions of gallons of raw sewage were dumped into New Jersey waterways following the hurricane and scientists are using satellites to track the sludge as it makes its way to the ocean. This tracking ability is letting authorities put out warnings for affected waterways and monitor the situation as it progresses. The high tech solution gives researchers a much better perspective of the reach of the problem than they could get from performing tests on the ground.

“Technically, you can’t identify raw sewage from a satellite, but you can find river discharge that you suspect has raw sewage,” said Matthew Oliver, assistant professor of oceanography in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment. “The reason why is because river discharge usually has a very different temperature and color than the surrounding waters.”

Oliver works with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Association Coastal Ocean Observing System (MARACOOS) which collects ocean data along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Massachusetts and shares that information with governments and the public. They operate a satellite dish at University of Delaware that they use for gathering images of the coast line.

So far, the team has been able to pinpoint several affected waterways located in northern New Jersey that include the Hudson River, Passaic River, Hackensack River, Newark Bay, Kill Van Kull and Arthur Kill, Raritan Bay, Raritan River, Sandy Hook Bay and northern Barnegat Bay. Advisories have been issued to boaters, anglers and crabbers to avoid those waterways until further notice.

Satellites Helping to Detect Raw Sewage Runoff from Hurricance Sandy
Satellites are helping scientists to track raw sewage as it makes its way to the ocean after Hurricane Sandy.

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