Multimedia

NOVA's Volatile Earth: Killer Hurricanes

Killer Hurricanes pursues the riddle of an 18th-century Caribbean superstorm that killed 20,000 people, the highest known death toll of any single weather event. To reconstruct its epic scale and investigate what made it so devastating, NOVA joins historians, storm sleuths, and WHOI geologist Dr. Jeff Donnelly as they track down clues in eyewitness chronicles, old ruins, sediment cores and computer simulations.

Hurricane Sleuth

When Geologist Jeff Donnelly of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) hunts for hurricanes, he does it safely at ground level, or just slightly below. He is even able to do it without having to encounter so much as a drop of rain or a gust of wind. With funding from the National Science Foundation, Donnelly leads a team that studies long term global hurricane patterns. They travel to coastal areas where a hurricane's storm surge has washed over beaches and left sediment deposits, such as sand, in areas where there normally wouldn't be any. By drilling and studying cores from different points around the Atlantic Ocean, he and his team have been able to paint a picture of long term global hurricane activity. They've unearthed some interesting findings about past hurricane activity which might give us a hint about what we can expect in the future.

National Geographic's Years of Living Dangerously: Storms of the Future

WHOI's Coastal Systems Group, Jeff Donnelly, leads a team of researchers on a coring expedition of blue holes around the Caribbean. Donnelly's team spent one month aboard the ship Alucia, surveying sites and collecting valuable sediment cores that aid in reconstructing the area's hurricane history. Year's correspondent, Ian Somerhalder, dives into Donnelly's research to better understand hurricanes of the past and where we may be headed.

 

Thatch Point Blue Hole, Bahamas : Bird’s Eye View

http://science.whoi.edu/users/coastal/Media/Thatchpoint2.wmv

Thatch Point Blue Hole has been tempting the scientists of the Coastal System Group for years. In 2011 Dr. Pete Vanhengstum enlisted the aid of local divers to recover a short sediment core from the hole. Analysis of that core yielded a high resolution overwash record suggesting that there was a much longer story buried in the bottom of that hole, if only there was a way to sample it. The location of the hole, it’s depth, and the shallow surrounding lagoon make it an ideal target for the group’s paleo-hurricane reconstructions. Yet it’s those same traits that have stood in the way of any major coring attempts. With a depth of 80m Thatch Point blue hole is too deep for shallow water coring techniques, but with the surrounding waters only a few meters deep there was no way to transport the more robust coring systems needed to the site.

In 2015 a team consisting of Dr. Vanhengstum, Dr. Donnelly, graduate student Tyler Winkler, and research technician Richard Sullivan finally managed to recover a 9m core from Thatch Point. Utilizing a custom built light weight coring frame and platform mounted ontop of two 6m inflatable rafts they successfully deployed a coring system intended for use on boats larger by several orders of magnitude. The ability to deploy large systems in locations traditional research ships can’t reach opens up numerous sites that had previously been beyond the group’s grasp.   The potential for finding detailed climate records is high helping us better understand what past climate conditions have been and what sort of storms the future may hold.

 

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