This article is made available with the permission of The North Carolina Academy of Science for research purposes only. It is not to be used for commercial activities or reproduced without written permission from the NCAS.

The Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society, 103(1), 1987, pp.28-42



Department of Geology and Geography, Pembroke State University, Pembroke, NC 28372

Abstract: Carolina Bays research has been conducted for more than a century and the results of the research efforts have appeared in a multitude of journals, books, and monographs. More than 350 bibliographic entries have been identified here, most of which pertain directly to Carolina Bays. The remainder provide insights and information important to the scientist engaged in Carolina Bays studies. Examination of the literature shows that the focus of research has shifted over the years. Most of the early work concentrated on theories of origin. For the past several years ecology, limnology, and soil characteristics have received more attention than origin studies.

Key Words: Carolina Bays; bibliography.


Carolina Bays are elliptical, shallow depressions found primarily on the Coastal Plain of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. However, some bays may exist in northern Florida and as far north as New Jersey. They are further characterized by being oriented on a northwest-southeast axis, with, in many cases, a distinct sand rim on the southeast end. For the most part these land surface form features are not readily visible from ground level, but aerial views show them to be spectacular features on the otherwise monotonous coastal plain (Fig. 1). The origin of the bays has been a subject of controversy for more than half a century, and numerous theories have been proposed over the years but none has been universally accepted by scholars. The theories (Price, 1968, revised and updated by this author) include:

1. Spring basins (Toumey, 1848).

2. Sand bar dams of drowned valleys (Glenn, 1895).

3. Depressions dammed by giant sand ripples (Glenn, 1895).

4. Craters of meteor swarm (Melton and Schriever, 1952; Prouty, 1952; Wells and Boyce, 1953).

5. Submarine scour by eddies, currents, or undertow (Melton, 1934).

6. Segmentation of lagoons and formation of cresentic keys (Cooke, 1934); original hollows at the foot of marine terraces and between dunes (Cooke, 1954).

7. Lakes in sand elongated in direction of maximum wind velocity (Raisz,1934).

8. Solution depressions, with wind-drift sand forming the rims (Johnson,1936).

9. Solution depressions, with magnetic highs near bays due to redeposition of iron compounds leached from the basins (Lobeck, 1939).

10. Basins scoured out by confined gyroscopic eddies (Cooke, 1940, 1954).

11. Solution basins of artesian springs with lee dunes (Johnson, 1942).

12. Fish nests made by giant schools of fish waving their fins in unison over submarine artesian springs (Grant, 1945).

13. Eolian blowouts (Prouty, 1952).

14. Bays are sinks over limestone solution areas streamlined by groundwater (Le Grand, 1953; Shockley et al., 1956).

15. Oriented lakes of stabilized grassland interridge swales of former beach plains and longitudinal dune fields with some formed from basins in Pleistocene lagoons (Price, 1951, 1958).

16. Black hole striking in Canada (Hudson Bay) throwing ice onto coastal plain (Davis, 1971).

17. Cometary fragments exploding above surface, their shock waves creating depressions (Eyton and Parkhurst, 1975).

18. Drought with subsequent fire in peat bogs followed by eolian activity (Ross, 1986).

FIG. 1. Carolina Bays in Robeson County, North Carolina. This photograph provides examples of cleared bays (note the many small cultivated bays shown in the top, center and along the bottom part of the picture), partially forested bays (particularly the large bay in the northwest quadrant), overlapping bays (along the highway in the northeast quadrant of the photograph). It also illustrates the ellipticity of shape and the presence of bays of various sizes in this 8.5 square mile area. The largest bay shown here is about 1.4 miles long. (Courtesy United States Department of Agriculture, ASCS, Lumberton, N.C.).

Table 1

Percentage of publications showing research emphases in the several categones from 1895 to the present. Where there is overlap of the categories, the research was placed in the category which seemed most appropriate.

Research emphasis


Theories of origin

Geologic characteristics


Soil studies





























a Since 1937, many papers of a geologic nature are closely related to origin studies.

The purpose of this paper is not to discuss the origin of the bays but to present a comprehensive bibliography which will benefit scholars engaged in Carolina Bays research. Some few works which are included deal only tangentially with Carolina Bays, but they are significant as related to the body of literature on this subject. An examination of the bibliography shows that Carolina Bays research is far-ranging including soil studies, land use capabilities, and ecological research With respect to theories of origin, it should be noted that a work by Savage (1982) which is highly valued for its bibliography on the subject also contains detailed discussions of the more notable works concerned with bay origins.

Analysis of the publications reporting on research illustrates that the focus o investigation has changed over the years. As seen in Table 1, there has been decreasing emphasis on the study of theories of origin as well as in research concerning geological characteristics. Meanwhile, and particularly during the last thirty years, there has been a dramatic increase in ecological/biological research. During this same period, soil studies have entered the picture also in a continuing manner. Thus, it appears that, although the origin of the bays continues to attract attention from scientists, most of the recent work has been oriented toward the study of life associated with the Carolina Bays and toward a better understanding of the ecosystems of and related to the Bay Lakes.

It is hoped that this bibliography of the Carolina Bays literature will be of value to researchers who are actively working on some aspect of Carolina Bays studies and to others who are planning research or are merely interested in this area of increasing scientific emphasis.


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Acknowledgment: This project was supported by a grant from the Pembroke State University Faculty Research and Development Fund.

Received 26 March 1987

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