Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hurricanes' paradoxical effects on the coastal ecosystems in Texas

Science Daily has a long, article, well worth reading: Dr. Rusty Feagin was managing several ecosystem research projects on Galveston Island when the 2008 hurricane season began…Most of the dunes and marshes he and his graduate students had studied were destroyed or severely damaged by Hurricane Ike, which struck Galveston Sept. 13. But with the 2008 hurricane season officially over, Feagin has noted the changes and will begin again.

His research over the years, however, has yielded discoveries that could help the tender ecosystem recover, depending on human interaction. Among his findings, when comparing before and after Ike, is that the marshes lost elevation, which is contrary to what most would expect to happen in a hurricane.

…Feagin said the sand dunes in the area hit by Hurricane Ike were already eroding at a rate of several feet per year. The natural mending of washed-out beaches might not be possible because of the many structures and non-native landscapes maintained there, blocking dune re-establishment.

…“Some would say that plants directly protect the land and thus protect people from storms,” Feagin said. “But that’s not so in terms of the big storms. But the waves are not what does the damage and cause death, it’s the water depth. If you get a 12-foot wall of water, it doesn’t matter if you have a front yard full of oak trees.

“We need to rely on ‘ecological engineering’ and good policy that requires people to build homes in the correct locations,” he said. “If we covered a barrier island such as Galveston with concrete, you could say it was stabilized. But without the natural process of building elevation through by plants, the whole thing will eventually drown from the rising sea level.”

Search and rescue in Galveston, Texas, after Hurricane Ike, shot by Staff Sergeant James L. Harper, Jr.

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