Paleotempestology May Ease Storm Problems
November 7, 2012

Paleotempestology May Provide Answers, Solutions For Tropical Storm Problems

Brett Smith for — Your Universe Online

With the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy still being felt by millions of Americans across the eastern coast of the United States, scientists from the Geological Society of America are looking to paleotempestology to provide answers and solutions for the many problems tropical storms can cause.

Several presentations at Wednesday´s GSA Annual Meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina were focused on gathering evidence and data from historical storms for use in future studies. One of the speakers slated for the meeting, Scott Hippensteel of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, noted the growing importance of paleotempestology.

"Growing populations and recent hurricane activity along the Atlantic and Gulf coastlines have made clear the need for a more accurate and extensive record of storm activity,” he wrote in a report published in GSA Today.

He added that "the field of paleotempestology has never been of more importance," particularly "in the current period of climate change.”

According to Hippensteel´s presentation titled, "The effectiveness of traditional paleotempestology proxies in backbarrier marshes from the Southeastern Atlantic Coast”, the preservation of storm deposit is highly valuable evidence for future paleotempestology studies.

In that study, researchers examined microfossils and sediments near Onslow Bay, N.C. only to find that these samples are only useful under ideal meteorological conditions that preserve any evidence. They also said that only the most robust storms leave behind any type of signature in this type of analysis.

Another presentation, titled “Relationships between basin-wide and landfalling Atlantic tropical cyclones: Comparing long-term simulations with paleoevidence,” described how a sinkhole in the panhandle of Florida has allowed Michael Mann and scientists from Pennsylvania State University to gather historical data on previous hurricanes based on the storm surge sediments found there. The researchers in that study were able to show this by performing a radioactive and grain-size analysis on the sediments that matched up with the evidence provided from previous models and studies.

Jeffrey P. Donnelly of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution also gave a presentation at the conference this week titled “Late Holocene North Atlantic hurricane activity.”

The presentation is based on detailed reconstructions of hurricane activity over the past 4500 years. These reconstructions attempted to gauge the tropical storm frequency that apparently waxed and waned over that time period.

Donnely is a veteran in the field and was writing on the subject of paleotempestology as early as 2001 in a piece called "Sedimentary evidence of intense hurricane strikes from New Jersey.”

"Intense storms present a significant threat to lives and resources and can result in significant alteration of coastal environments,” he wrote.  "The most famous storm affecting the New Jersey shore in the twentieth century was the Ash Wednesday northeaster of March 5—8, 1962“¦ Storm surge associated with this storm overtopped many of the barrier islands of the New Jersey coast and deposited overwash fans across backbarrier marshes there."

The GSA Meeting and Exposition is an annually held conference that typically draws about 6,000 people “from every geoscience discipline and every stage of career development,” according to an official statement.