FGCU scientist examines sediment to project impact of future storms

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FILE: This image provided by NASA shows Hurricane Florence from the International Space Station on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, as it threatens the U.S. East Coast. Hurricane Florence is coming closer and getting stronger on a path to squat over North and South Carolina for days, surging over the coast, dumping feet of water deep inland and causing floods from the sea to the Appalachian Mountains and back again. (NASA via AP/ FILE)

Is the secret to figuring out how strong future storms will be under water? That is what Florida Gulf Coast University scientists are trying to figure out.

Joanne Muller, an associate professor at FGCU, took WINK News on a boat and showed us one of the main techniques she uses to study hurricanes. It is called “coring,” where she removes the tube of sediment from the bay.

If you look closely, there is a difference in the sediment. Muller said a patch, which includes shells, likely dates back to the 1960s when Hurricane Donna made landfall.

“You drive this long aluminum pipe down to the sediment using core handles,” Muller said, “Then, we use suction to essentially cap the top.”

It is a process that requires plenty of hands. That is why Muller brought Chad McKendrick.

“We’re learning about the different storm systems in the settlement over the years,” McKendrick said. “About 100 years or so, maybe more.”

Other marine biology students who are participating in a five-week class said the program is a hands-on experience at five different laboratories across the state.

Muller said studying sediment patterns can help scientists learn about intense storms and hurricanes dating back centuries.

“If the storm is strong enough, and has a strong enough storm surge, it will wash all that rain material into the lagoon,” Muller said. “Then, hopefully, the signature will be laid down and it will be preserved.”

Muller believes these signatures show a correlation between high sea water temperatures and the intensity of hurricanes.

“Sea surface temps are above normal at the moment in the Atlantic just off the coast of Africa,” Muller said, “where we tend to see a lot of these tropical disturbances form.”

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