Public Release: 

What paleotempestology tells scientists about today's tempests

GSA Annual Meeting & Exposition: Technical Session, Wednesday, Nov. 7

Geological Society of America


IMAGE: A beautifully-formed low-pressure system swirls off the southeastern coast of Greenland, illustrating the maxim that "nature abhors a vacuum. " The vacuum in this case would be a region of low... view more

Credit: Caption and image credit NASA

Boulder, CO, USA - Understanding Earth's paleo-hurricane record cannot be more timely and important in a light of Hurricane Sandy, which shocked the U.S. East Coast last week. Talks in this Wednesday afternoon session at the GSA Annual Meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, integrate field, lab, and model analysis of past hurricanes and future scenarios, covering a wide range of temporal and spatial scales.

Session co-organizer Daria Nikitina of West Chester University says that "gaining understanding of past events provides the context for future coastal vulnerability. Given predicted global warming, the frequency and magnitude of severe weather events will probably increase and with it the likelihood of more coastal devastation" like that witnessed in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut last week, as well as associated weather events further inland.

Presenter Scott P. Hippensteel of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte will talk on "The effectiveness of traditional paleotempestology proxies in backbarrier marshes from the Southeastern Atlantic Coast" at 2:55 p.m. Writing for the Geological Society of America's science and news magazine, GSA Today, in 2010, he notes, "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" (GSA Today, v. 20, no. 4, p. 52). He also writes that "the field of paleotempestology has never been of more importance," especially "in the current period of climate change" (GSA Today, p. 53).

As early as 2001, presenter Jeffrey P. Donnelly of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution addressed "Sedimentary evidence of intense hurricane strikes from New Jersey" (Geology, v. 29, no. 7, p. 615). In the article, he warns, "Intense storms present a significant threat to lives and resources and can result in significant alteration of coastal environments." He discusses, "The most famous storm affecting the New Jersey shore in the twentieth century was the Ash Wednesday northeaster of March 5, 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." In Wednesday's session, Donnelly will speak about "Late Holocene North Atlantic hurricane activity" at 1:35 p.m.

Michael E. Mann of The Pennsylvania State University, who spoke earlier this week in a late-breaking panel on Hurricane Sandy, will deliver a talk on "Relationships between basin-wide and landfalling Atlantic tropical cyclones: Comparing long-term simulations with paleoevidence" at 3:40 p.m. on Wednesday.

Heading the session with Nikitina are Andrea D. Hawkes of the University of North Carolina Wilmington and Jon Woodruff of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Hawkes is a co-author on the Donnelly talk; Woodruff is a co-author on a talk presented by Christine M. Brandon, also at U-Mass-Amherst, "Constraining hurricane wind speed at landfall using storm surge overwash deposits from a sinkhole in St. Marks, FL."

GSA's Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology Division and International Section cosponsor this session, along with the International Geoscience Programme (IGCP) 588: Preparing for Coastal Change.

WHAT: Session 266: T118. Paleotempestology: Proxy Record Development and Climate Forcing Mechanisms

When: Wednesday, 7 Nov., 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Where: Charlotte Convention Center, Room 219AB

Online at


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Wednesday, 7 Nov., 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

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