Science Center Objects

The high winds and storm surge associated with hurricanes impacted coastal wetlands from Virginia to Maine.  Understanding the ecological and geological impacts of hurricanes on coastal wetlands and both resident and migratory wildlife populations is fundamental to helping rebuild and maintain these unique ecosystems.

Forest Schematic

Forest Schematic (Public domain.)

Conservation of Rare Vegetation Communities of the Atlantic Coastal Barrier Islands

A synthesis of the role of disturbance, in all of its manifestations, on the establishment and development of the American Holly forest is required to guide future conservation measures. Because many forest fragments have already endured >30 years of chronic deer herbivory, a legitimate question of how much more impact by deer can be tolerated and still conserve the essential type and character of the maritime forest remains unanswered.



Over wash fan created by Hurricane Sandy in a protected area of Fire Island National Seashore.

Beach dune grass emerging in the background after complete burial by sand caused by the storm surge. Credit: C. R. Kilheffer (Public domain.)



Post-Hurricane Sandy Vegetation Recovery in the Presence of a Hyper-abundant Deer Population

The primary dune along barrier island beaches protects leeward vegetation from tidal fluctuation, salt spray and storm surge.  However, storm surges like those experienced during Hurricane Sandy can obliterate the primary dune, transporting sand inland and burying existing vegetation.  The dune rebuilds naturally as recovering vegetation traps wind-blown and waterborne sand.  The rate at which the primary dune rebuilds is determined largely by abiotic factors affecting transport of sand.  In the presence of a hyper-abundant deer population, the biotic impacts of grazing, browsing and trampling might also affect vegetation and dune recovery.

Radar Analysis of Bird Stopover Density

Radar Analysis of Bird Stopover Density (Public domain.)


Response of Migrating Birds to Hurricane Sandy

Each autumn, millions of landbirds migrate southward from breeding areas in the U.S. and Canada. Because these migrations occur during hurricane season, the impacts of hurricanes on migrating birds and their en route resting and foraging sites (stopover sites) are a real concern. Hurricane Sandy occurred late in the landbird migration season. By the time the storm made landfall in late October 2012, most birds that migrate to tropical wintering areas had already passed through the Mid-Atlantic region. However, the storm likely impacted temperate migrants that winter in Mid-Atlantic coastal habitats or were en route to wintering areas in the southern U.S. We applied a variety of techniques and data to assess possible impacts of Hurricane Sandy on the movement of nocturnally migrating landbirds: weather surveillance radar data, field surveys and eBird citizen science data, and dynamic simulation of migratory flights using an individual-based model (IBM) together with high-resolution modeled wind data.


Collecting measurements from SET

SET – MH Station: Reading a surface elevation table – marker horizon (SET – MH) station in a Jamaica Bay, NY salt marsh. (Public domain.)



Hurricane Sandy Impacts on Coastal Wetland Resilience in the Northeast United States

The high winds and storm surge associated with Hurricane Sandy impacted coastal wetlands from Virginia to Maine. Understanding the ecological and geological impacts of hurricanes on coastal wetlands and their interactive effects with local conditions is important for identifying resilience of these communities to predicted global sea-level rise. Given the projected increase in number and intensity of hurricanes, we need to understand the impact of physical and chemical stressors associated with hurricanes in order to efficiently and effectively protect and restore these critical habitats. Storm-related sediment deposition and erosion are two of the potential long-term impacts of severe storms such as Hurricane Sandy on marsh surface elevation and resilience. But wetland impacts are unique for every major storm because of each storm’s unique characteristics (wind speed, angle of approach, tidal stage).