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Paleotempestology Roundup

November 23, 2012

The new science of paleotempestology studies ocean sediment to uncover ancient hurricanes.



Learning from ancient tempests. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

It’s hard for scientists to say whether the number and intensity of hurricanes nowadays is unusual, because instrument-based weather records go back only about 160 years. Now a new branch of study called paleotempestology looks for evidence of storms much older. At a meeting of the Geological Society of America, scientists described studies of a deep sinkhole on Florida’s panhandle that’s been undisturbed for at least 2500 years. By studying layers of ocean sand sediment deposited there by storm surge, they’ve come up with a detailed record of hurricane activity there over many centuries.

Other teams described paleotempestology studies along the mid-Atlantic coast and on the Black Sea in the Ukraine. The researchers hope to get a better handle on the cycles and underlying causes of destructive storms. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Technology allows us to directly visualize modern hurricanes like Isabel. But to understand ancient hurricanes, paleotempestologists turn to marine sediment. (Mike Trenchard, Earth Sciences & Image Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center)