Climate Science

1000 Years of Hurricanes

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Science  05 Sep 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5894, pp. 1272-1273
DOI: 10.1126/science.321.5894.1272c

The natural variability of hurricane activity is poorly known, not least because the historic record for hurricanes extends back only about 130 years. As a result, there has been controversy over whether hurricane activity will change—or is already changing—as a result of global warming. Sediments may hold clues to hurricane activity over longer time scales, but few studies have yielded sedimentary records of hurricane activity at annual resolution. Besonen et al. have now obtained an annually resolved lake sediment record from Lower Mystic Lake in Boston, Massachusetts, that covers the past 1000 years. The record contains anomalous features—unusually thick layers in which coarse sediments and terrestrial, organic detritus are overlain by progressively finer sediments—that are indicative of strong flooding. Comparison with the historic record shows that 10 out of 11 of these features occur in years when category 2-to-3 hurricanes struck Boston. The authors use this correlation to determine centennial-scale changes in hurricane frequency. Further records of this type from other locations will help to relate these patterns to other paleoclimate indicators. — JFU

Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L14705 (2008).

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