Exploring Carolina Bays: The elliptical lakes with a mysterious geologic origin

Driving into Bladen County, I catch my first glimpse of why I’ve come. Brief gaps in dense vegetation reveal the inky blue waters of mysterious lakes that have baffled observers for centuries.

At Singletary Lake, I park and walk toward a small clearing. When viewed from ground level, Carolina bays look like typical lakes. A few scientists in the 1800s noticed they were unusually round, but most folks dismissed them as regular wetlands. Locals suggested whale wallows from biblical floods. Then, in the 1930s, the invention of aerial photography revealed a different story.

Hundreds of elliptical depressions pockmarked the coastal plain. Some Carolina bays were bigger, some smaller. A few overlapped others. Most had been altered by agriculture or were filled with swampy vegetation. Others were encircled by sandy rims and brimming with open water. Each pointed the same direction, with long axes running northwest to southeast. In the black and white photos of the day, they looked like craters on the moon.

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