The Atlantic hurricane season is over Nov. 30, and so far New Orleans has dodged any bullets, but a Texas researcher says tropical storms and hurricanes are damaging the environment even when they don’t destroy property — and he expects it to get worse in coming years.
Michael Wetz, a marine biology professor at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, was studying the effects of 2011’s Hurricane Irene on estuaries in North Carolina, when he and fellow researchers from the University of North Carolina and Oregon State University found that strong storms along coasts churn up sediments that normally keep carbon locked under the water, causing the release of huge belches of carbon dioxide (CO2). Wetz says a plume containing as much CO2 as normally would be stored in the underwater ecosystem for years can be released at once, contributing to a buildup of C02 in the atmosphere.
“This is concerning because carbon dioxide levels are increasing rapidly, contributing to global climate change,” he said in a prepared statement. Storing carbon and releasing CO2 into the atmosphere are natural processes that have taken place for eons, but Wetz says the phenomenon has never before been documented. He also says he is concerned that larger and more frequent storms are increasing the amount of gas vented, and that storms stirring the sediment can kill plants and animals and damage the ecosystem.
“The concern is that there will be changes in the frequency and/or intensity of tropical storms in the near future due to human-influenced climate change,” Wetz said. “This could alter the ability of coastal systems to store carbon.”
The research was published by the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography.
Wetz says next he plans to study whether smaller storms have a similar effect on the carbon capturing system.