Reconstructing Past Hurricanes
Since 2016, doctoral student Gil Ouellette (now graduated) and faculty member Kristine DeLong have been conducting research in Little Cayman Island on past climate and impacts of hurricanes in the island and its coral reefs. Little Cayman Island is the smallest of the Cayman islands with only 170 permanent residents with the majority of the island undeveloped giving its pristine coral reefs protection from human disturbances. The LSU team is working with the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (https://reefresearch.org/) and their research station in Little Cayman. In the summer of 2018, DeLong and Ouellette have collected numerous coral samples that were washed inland during tropical cyclones. These samples will be dated to better understand the timing of large storms impacting the island. Samples dated so far are 5482, 5293, 3543, and 1766 years old suggesting the island has been impacted by large storms in past. Since 1903, Little Cayman Island has been impacted by just seven major hurricanes including Hurricane Allen in 1980 that caused wide spread storm surge flooding on the island. Little Cayman island sits directly in the path of many hurricanes that reach the Gulf of Mexico so understanding hurricanes in this location will help us better understand hurricanes impacts in the Gulf of Mexico. After dating the corals, their skeletons will be micro-sampled to better understand past climate in the new PAST lab in the Department of Geography and Anthropology using the newly installed inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometer (ICP-OES) that measures the amount of trace elements in the coral skeleton. The corals reconstructions will provide a record of past sea surface temperatures and ocean conditions from when the corals were alive and before being washed ashore. DeLong and Ouellette also cored modern corals in the summer of 2016 that undergraduate Othalia Richards worked on for her independent research project in the PAST lab. Dr. DeLong has is currently seeking students, undergraduate and graduate students to work on the Little Cayman Project, divers are welcome and can help with upcoming research in the summer of 2019!