Hunting for Evidence of Ancient Hurricanes

by Jane Ahrens

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s (WHOI) Coastal Systems Group (CSG) visited Fishers Island on June 12, 2014 in an effort to gain scientific information about several ponds on the east end of the Island. CSG is hunting for evidence of ancient (paleo) hurricanes, and the clues lie in the mud deposited at the bottom of these ponds. “We look for layers of sand that may have been washed over with hurricane storm surge. These layers of sand originating on the beach and carried by the waves and high waters, cover the mud and offer clues about when and how large the storm may have been.” As a precursor to collecting the deep cores of mud from the bottom of the ponds, the team from Woods Hole first needed to determine several bits of information such as: How deep are the ponds? Are they fresh, brackish or salty? For how long have the ponds been there? And are they susceptible to hurricanes of the past tracking along the eastern seaboard?

WHOI, with the help of Fishers Island Naturalist Justine Kibbe and Island Sentinel Conner Wakeman, surveyed the ponds using a skiff (special thanks to Steve Malinowski) kayak and canoe, and utilized scientific equipment such as a depth gun and CTD (Conductivity/salinity, Temperature, Depth) to make measurements. The ultimate goal is to map the ponds then revisit sites and core 30 feet into the mud to find layers of sand deposited from past hurricanes. The historic record, collected from human observation and tide gauge data, gives us only a short history of hurricane events (about 150 years), whereas a 2,000 year story is preserved in the mud.

Woods Hole Oceanographic institute will be back to core Island Pond sometime over the summer….stay tuned.

Featured Photo

USCG Eagle passing the Race early morning March 18, 2023 on her return from the Chesapeake Bay . Photo Credit Marlin Bloethe

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