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Hurricane Sleuth – Science Nation

Hurricane Sleuth – Science Nation


MILES O’BRIEN: These days we know an awful
lot about hurricanes, how theyre born, how they grow, where they go,
and who should flee. Mostly thanks to technology that
keeps our eyes on the sky. But Jeff Donnelly is a hurricane hunter
who happens to be a geologist and so he is looking the other way. JEFF DONNELLY: We’re able to determine
the hurricane activity by basically taking long core samples and looking at deposits
that were washed in during hurricane events. MILES O’BRIEN: With help from the National Science
Foundation, Donnelly is augering into this Cape Cod marsh
to see what happened here in the BM era, that’s before meteorologists, way before.
Cores like this are natures archives. You just have to know how to read them, which
Donnelly does in his lab at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. JEFF DONNELLY: So this grass is what we were
standing on when we took the core and as we move down,
we’re basically moving back through time. You get this light layer at around 40 centimeters
and if you feel it, you can actually feel all the coarse grains
of sand that were transported from the beach into the marsh during the storm
event. And it probably dates somewhere to–to the
early 1800s or late 1700s. And then as we go further back down the core,
theres another light layer here that shows probably, you know,
800, 900 years ago. If you feel it, its also got some–some sand in it
as well, providing evidence of a storm that we knew nothing about before we started
doing this work. MILES O’BRIEN: But there is more than
meets the eye in these core samples. Donnelly uses a sophisticated scanner to
determine the precise dates of ancient storms and thus see long range patterns. Donnelly is
also exploring the link between climate change and hurricanes. Does a warmer planet with
warmer oceans, mean the big storms will get more intense? The jury is still out. JEFF DONNELLY: What’s going to happen in the
next hundred years is still an open question, but it’s clear that–that–that climate change can
modulate hurricane activity, where clearly influencing climate, how the rain
influences hurricane activity still remains to be seen. MILES O’BRIEN: And thats getting to
the core of the issue. This well-grounded research, way back in time,
may help tell us what trouble may be brewing for us in the future. For Science Nation, I’m Miles OBrien.

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