Clustered Hurricanes Reduce Impact on Ecosystems

New research has found that hurricane activity is 'clustered' rather than random, which has important long-term implications for coastal ecosystems and human population. The research was carried out by Professor Peter Mumby from The University of Queensland Global Change Institute and School of Biological Sciences, Professor David Stephenson and Dr. Renato Vitolo (Willis Research Fellow) at the University of Exeter's Exeter Climate Systems research centre.

Tropical cyclones and hurricanes have a massive economic, social and ecological impact, and models of their occurrence influence many planning activities from setting insurance premiums to conservation planning.
 
Understanding how the frequency of hurricanes varies is important for the people that experience them and the ecosystems that are impacted by hurricanes.
 
The findings published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA map the variability in hurricanes throughout the Americas using a 100-year historical record of hurricane tracks.
 
Short intense periods of hurricanes followed by relatively long quiet periods, were found around the Caribbean Sea and the clustering was particularly strong in Florida, the Bahamas, Belize, Honduras, Haiti and Jamaica.
 
Modelling of corals reefs of the Caribbean found that clustered hurricanes are 'better' for coral reef health than random hurricane events as the first hurricane always causes a lot of damage but then those storms that follow in quick succession don't add much additional damage as most of the fragile corals were removed by the first storm.
 
The following prolonged period without hurricanes allows the corals to recover and then remain in a reasonable state prior to being hit by the next series of storms.
 
It is important to consider the clustered nature of hurricane events when predicting the impacts of storms and climate change on ecosystems. For coral reefs, forecasts of habitat collapse were overly pessimistic and have been predicted at least 10 years too early as hurricanes were assumed to occur randomly over time, which is how most research projects model the incidence of future hurricanes.
 
'Cyclones have always been a natural part of coral reef lifecycles', says study author Professor Peter Mumby. 'However, with the additional stresses people have placed upon ecosystems like fishing, pollution and climate change, the impacts of cyclones linger a lot longer than they did in the past.'
 
Mumby adds, 'If we are to predict the future of coral reefs it's really important to consider the clustering of cyclone events. For a given long term rate of hurricanes (e.g., once per decade), clustered events are less damaging.'
 
Clustering of storms and other weather events is a global phenomenon that needs to be better quantified statistically in risk assessments' says study author Professor David Stephenson. 'We didn't at first expect clustering to have advantages but this study has clearly shown that clustering can help by giving ecosystems more time to recover from natural catastrophes'
 
Professor Stephenson adds, 'This research also has wider implications for other systems such as the dynamics and viability of insurance companies and the provision of reinsurance protection.'
 
"Reinsurance companies are a bit like ecosystems and so need time to recover after major losses - so clustering of hurricanes allows the industry to build profits before the next cluster of storm losses. They are different from corals in that they actually need a few hurricanes for them to be able to grow," said Professor Stephenson.

Download Center

  • Monitoring and Reporting on Air Emissions for Regulators and the Real World

    When it comes to managing compliance and regulatory issues surrounding air emissions, there are no easy jobs. With interviews from practitioners from American Electric Power, Red Cedar Gathering, Trinity Consultants, and Cority, this eBook provides practical advice to advance your air emissions monitoring and reporting programs.

  • What Every EHS Professional Should Know About ESG

    Join experts from Arcadis and Cority on April 27th to learn the most common ESG reporting frameworks and how technology can help you improve reporting efficiency, identify areas for improvement, and create defensible audit trails.

  • Green Quadrant EHS Software 2021

    Read the new report by independent analyst firm, Verdantix, to get an unbiased comparison of the 22 most prominent EHS software vendors in the industry.

  • RFP Template for Waste Management Software

    Learn the essential questions to ask when evaluating waste management software solutions with this free, ready-to-use RFP template

  • 5 Keys to Best-in-Class Chemical Management

    Running a safe chemical program is challenging and complex: from knowing what's on-site to proper handling and disposal - all while navigating regulatory changes. Learn the best ways to mitigate chemical risk, get the most value out of your data, and gain buy-in for a chemical management solution.

Featured Webinar