So I am sure that everyone has been posting ad naseum about Hurricane Irene. I don’t want this to be another such post. However, I did want to share some video and photos from the east end of Long Island, particularly Hampton Bays (where I live) and the Stony Brook-Southampton Marine Station.
Despite all the warnings and conjuring up memories of the 1938 “Long Island Express”, Irene came through Long Island early Sunday morning as a high tropical storm, bringing 60-70 mph winds and lots of rain to the Island. However, it also crossed at high tide on the same day as a moon tide (so already higher than normal). So there was some damaging storm surge, although less than originally forecast. We got off relatively lucky out on the east end, with what appeared (at least to me) as limited damage (although we are due for a big one).
The following is a video and some photos from the marine station which I took Sunday morning around 11 am (~3-4 hours after the hurricane crossed Long Island and ~3 hours after high tide):
There was considerable damage to Montauk Highway where it runs next to Shinnecock Bay at Swan Beach:
The town dock on Little Neck Road, down Old Fort Pond from the Marine Station was lost:
Jackson’s Marina was devastated:
Even the canal flooded and had large waves running down it:
All in all, it was not as bad as it could have been, at least out by me, and it did bring with it one surprise – a pelican!
This post is not intended to say that we got it bad out here – quite the contrary. The real damage seems to be where the torrential rains turned into massive floods in NY, NJ and Vermont. Thoughts and prayers to all those who are affected in those areas.
Who would have thunk it? Another snowstorm. So far this one isn’t as bad, but according to NOAA, we could expect up to 7-13 inches total though tonight. Ugh! You know, I don’t mind the snow. It’s nice. An inch or two. You wake up and everything looks clean, but it doesn’t really affect driving or work. But no, for some reason, the climate decided to unleash her wintery fury on the Northeast. I’ve been out on Long Island for about 10 years, and typically, we don’t get much snow. Before the 2009-2010 winter, I only remember one big snowstorm. Last winter we had another one. This winter, this is the 4th! Four storms, some worse then others, but all with large amounts of accumulation. And now I am tired of it. I already talked about how much I’d rather be somewhere else. Honestly, this winter is really downright depressing. It’s starting to feel like the flight of the skajaquada out there (that’s right, I just referenced Green Jello!). I just can’t wait for spring to start!
So what’s the deal? In case you were wondering, NOAA does a good job of simply explaining winter storms and what to do if your caught in one (although I have a different idea – move somewhere without snow!) But there has been some theories thrown out there as to why we are experiencing harsh winters, and these are tied to Arctic sea ice cover (or lack thereof). Now I am not a climatologist, so I am not going to pretend to understand everything about the drivers of climate and weather. But one driver of our current weather pattern is the Arctic temperature anomaly, which is strongly negative this winter. This means that the Arctic is experiencing unusually high pressure and warmer temperatures, shifting the low pressure and lower temperatures to the mid latitudes (yep, thats us! Side note, if I am incorrectly interpreting the Arctic anomaly, please correct me). So this climate pattern is likely driving our local weather. One of the effects of a negative Arctic anomaly is less sea ice extent, and in December of 2010, Arctic sea ice cover was the lowest recorded since satellite imagery started in 1979.
The lack of sea ice could be what’s driving these weather patterns. According to a CBS/AP article, the cold air that is normally bonded in the Arctic is instead bringing that air to our mid-Atlantic region. The article suggests that there is a very strong connection between ice cover and winter temperatures – when the temperature warms, the ice melts. This exposes the dark ocean surface, which absorbs hear, further melting the ice and continuing on in a cycle. This sentiment has been echoed by many researchers and in many news publications. What is fairly clear is that a warming Arctic, with less sea ice, can impact temperatures on a regional scale and thus affect weather patterns. Snow cover in the northern hemisphere can be linked to Arctic ice extent. Remember weather and climate are different things. Weather is local atmospheric conditions on a short time scale, whereas climate is how those atmospheric conditions behave and change over long time periods. But by changing climate patterns, local weather can be affected, and thus despite an overall warming trend, some places could actually experience harsh winters. It is winter here. So it is cold. That doesn’t mean it’s cold everywhere, and it is no evidence that there is no climate change. And actually, this clip from the Daily Show I think puts it best (oh no, it’s dark and getting darker! this proves global darkening!):
Obviously, we are at a chicken and egg scenario here. What is causing what – is the negative Arctic anomaly causing the lack of sea ice, or is the lack of sea ice causing the negative Arctic anomaly? I’m not sure. But what I can say is that regardless, as global temperatures warm, the extent of Arctic sea ice will decrease. This warming of the Arctic can prevent the cold air from being bound in the region, forcing colder air father south, and impacting our winters. So when nay-sayers claim that global warming can’t be happening because we are getting all this snow, you can explain to them that A) that climate is long term patterns which are predictable, whereas weather is short term phenomena are not predictable and do not indicate any patterns or change and B) warmer Arctic oceans does actually mean more snow for us down here in the mid Atlantic and Northeast. Just because snowstorms happen in one region doesn’t negate climate change. Just because temperatures start to fall in the winter does not mean that on average, the mean global temperature isn’t increasing.
Here on the East End of Long Island, I was concerned towards the beginning of the week about the impending Hurricane Earl. At that point, it seemed like it might be headed toward us. Of course, I was most concerned with my field experiments, which I can not stop, and then started to think about the overall impacts of hurricanes on the benthos.
From the literature research, it seems as though estuaries are particularly resilient to the impacts of major storms, and in particular, estuaries which frequently experience these issues. Granted, Long Island is not a site of major tropical weather, we do get out fair share of severe weather in the forms of Nor’easters. As a matter of fact, a major nor’easter hit Long Island, New York and New Jersey in March 2010, which brought sustained 60mph winds and gusts up to 73 mph (hurricane force winds are 75mph).
So I started to become less worried. Now I just hope that my experiments can handle any associated surge with the storm, and that all my cages and blocks are still out there next week!
Obviously, a lot can change in the next day or two, but as it is currently, Long Island is still well within the cone of probability of Hurricane Earl. Now, we get lots of predictions every year that this is our year (Long Island is said to be long overdue for a direct hit from a hurricane), and it is inevitable that a hurricane will hit Long Island in the future. I just didn’t think immediate future. I was kind of hoping I’d be long gone. After all, Long Island is hardly built for hurricanes. There is really only 3 roads off the Island (and for places out on the East End, only 1 road). This is in addition to being relatively low lying (many places get flooded with just a little rain) and lots of bodies of water which will rise with storm surges. Hurricanes also can potentially disrupt the local environment and ecology, as the last major hurricane (the 1938 Hurricane, and here, here, and images here) opened up the Shinnecock Inlet and changed the South Shore estuary system.
So I am obviously worried about my research as well. I have experiments running out in the field that aren’t done running yet, so I need to keep my fingers crossed that my equipment stays in place. Clearly I am selfish in my concern about the hurricane, but who wouldn’t be?
In the next day or two I will post an article on the impacts of hurricanes on the benthos, which is a major concern for me and, in my honest opinion, for Long Island, since most of the native benthos don’t experience anything like a hurricane.
As marine scientists, sometimes we forget or don’t even realize how much local baymen and fishermen actually know. Or maybe we don’t trust them because they are “lay” persons. But they work the bay, they try to catch many of the species we study (as money is a big driver of research), and they know things. Local baymen who have worked the bay for years suggest that bay scallop recruitment is higher in years after cold/wet winters. Sometimes, we take what they say with a grain of salt. However, they know. They have often been working with these species for as long or longer than we have, and it is often also a generation thing. Generations of baymen can’t be wrong in their assessment, can they?
A 2001 study in the Dutch Wadden Sea supports these claims, however, their conclusions are not what you think. Matthius Strasser and Carmen-Pia Gunther observed patterns in larval supply of predators and prey after a series of consecutive winters in which temperatures were severe, moderate or mild. Originally, the prevailing thought was that egg production increased after severe winters of many benthos, and this is why recruitment was higher in the following spring. However, their research indicates that the numbers and peaks in recruitment were actually highest in the mild winter. So why isn’t recruitment highest during these years? Their theory, a mismatch in the predator and prey larval supply. After severe winters there is a delay in the peak larval supply of the major predators, green crabs, of almost 6-8 weeks. This delay is not as apparent as their bivalve prey, and with the average larval time of the bivalves also being shorter, they settle much earlier than the green crabs and have a potential head start in growth. According to the researchers, this mismatch is what fuels observations of higher recruitment after severe winters.
An alternative scenario is one which was observed in Chesapeake Bay. Using local climate response variables Kimmel et al were able to demonstrate noticeable and significant differences in phytoplankton, copepod, gelatinous zooplankton and finfish abundances and composition between years with “wet” winters and years with “dry” winters. Essentially, wet winters led to an increase of freshwater flow and nutrients into the system, which resulted in higher phytoplankton, more copepods, more ctenophores and higher numbers of striped bass. In years of dry winters, there was less phytoplankton, more scyphomedusae and more menhaden. The basic premise is that the local climate had a significant impact on the community composition of Chesapeake Bay by controlling the amount of fresh water flux into the system.
Both are interesting reads, and the idea of the interplay between climate and marine ecology is one that is becoming even more important to understand with the current climate change scenarios. It is quite clear that atmospheric conditions and local climate can have a fairly significant impact on subsequent year classes – something baymen have been familiar with for decades, if not centuries, but something marine scientists have only been exploring for the past decade, give or take.
Strasser, M. (2001). Larval supply of predator and prey: temporal mismatch between crabs and bivalves after a severe winter in the Wadden Sea Journal of Sea Research, 46 (1), 57-67 DOI: 10.1016/S1385-1101(01)00063-6
Kimmel, D., Miller, W., Harding, L., Houde, E., & Roman, M. (2009). Estuarine Ecosystem Response Captured Using a Synoptic Climatology Estuaries and Coasts, 32 (3), 403-409 DOI: 10.1007/s12237-009-9147-y
I am a marine biologist that is currently attending graduate school at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Marine Sciences Research Center, of Stony Brook University, New York. I am very interested in marine ecology and have been focusing my studies on bay scallop interactions with their habitats. I plan to investigate various anthropogenic impacts on bay scallop populations for my PhD dissertation. This blog will highlight the details of my graduate research, from bay scallop-eelgrass interactions as previously mentioned, to alternative habitats for scallops, such as Codium, to trophic cascades, and more. Enjoy!
Is a useful experimental tool to mimic natural seagrass while controlling many factors, such as density, canopy height, leaf number, which are usually confounding in natural eelgrass meadows.
Scallops seem to love this stuff!