You are cordially invited to the SIGMA XI Lecture

"FORENSIC RECONSTRUCTION OF HISTORIC HURRICANES "

By
Nicholas K. Coch
Geology,School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Queens College

11:00am - 11:50am, April 6 (Thursday)
Graham Copeland Auditorium, 117, Grimsley Hall



ABSTRACT

      Very little meteorological data is available for hurricanes that made landfalls before the 1900's. This not only makes it difficult to determine the damage caused by those storms, but also makes it impossible to infer the damage that would occur should a similar storm hit (that far more developed) area today.
      Techniques described in this talk have provided pictures of hurricane destruction gradients dating as far back as 1635. Such studies require the availability of archival records (diaries, letters, newspaper articles and sketches) to provide a picture of damage patterns as well as a detailed knowledge of destruction patterns from instrumental analysis of recent hurricanes. Damage types in recent storms can be easily related to causative factors (wind speed, surge height) through quantitative methods such as instrumentation, satellite images, Doppler Radar, computer models and aerial photography. When similar damage patterns are observed in historical storms, it is possible to reconstruct the old wind field. Where sufficient water level data is available, it has been possible to construct an animated SLOSH Model of storm surge evolution for hurricanes hundreds of years old.
      This area of research is important because while damage and loss of life in old storms may have been modest, a recurrence of that storm, with today's population and infrastructure, could have catastrophic results. Knowledge of the past will greatly reduce property damage and loss of life in future hurricane landfalls.

-*- -*- -*- About the Speaker -*- -*- -*-

      Nicholas K. Coch received his Ph.D.. in 1965 from Yale University with a specialization in sedimentology and coastal geology. In 1967, he joined the faculty at Queens College and the CUNY Doctoral Faculty in Earth and Environmental Sciences and is now a Professor of Geology in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Queens College. He has co-authored two college geology textbooks (PHYSICAL GEOLOGY) and is the author of GEOHAZARDS (Prentice Hall).
      His research studies since 1967 have included sedimentation on the Moon, as a Principal Investigator in NASA's Lunar Sample Study Program, and shipboard studies of continental shelf, coastal and estuarine areas, as well as ground and aerial studies of the effects of hurricanes on coasts and urban centers. He has carried out ground and aerial studies of most recent hurricanes as well as studies of older (16th - 20th century) hurricanes.
      Recent research by Dr. Coch and his students has shown that major hurricanes passed directly over New York City and caused severe damage in 1821 and 1893. The 1821 event sunk most of the ships in New York Harbor, raised sea level 13 feet in an hour from low tide at the Battery and resulted in massive wind damage in Southern New England. The 1893 Hurricane was an unprecedented event; it removed an urbanized barrier island that existed from 1870-1893 south of the present Rockaway Shore. Details of the geologic, historical and archeological studies that document this event were published in the local and national editions of the NEW YORK TIMES on March 18, 1997. The re-discovery of two additional L.I. hurricanes has decreased the expected recurrence of a major hurricane in the Northeast from 125 to 90 years. He recently completed a forensic reconstruction of the 1635 "Colonial" Hurricane, that nearly wiped out early English settlements in New England. Data from the study were used to make a dynamic computer model of the storm as it raced towards New England 370 years ago! Most recently, he has studied the 1935 Hurricane in the Florida Keys in an attempt to determine how some southern hurricanes undergo rapid intensification.
      Dr. Coch is an expert on Northern Hurricanes and has been a consultant to the N.Y. City Emergency Management Organization and the N.Y.State Office of Emergency Management . He has presented hurricane seminars to emergency management and government officials in every county in southern New York as well as insurance, reinsurance and risk management groups nationwide. He was chosen as a Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturer for 2004-2006, and is currently presenting lectures on his research at educational and research facilities in the U.S. and Canada.
      Dr. Coch is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America and a Member of The American Meteorological Society, Society of Sedimentary Geologists, National Association of Geology Teachers, American Association of Petroleum Geologists and is a Certified Professional Geologist. Aspects of his hurricane research will be featured in programs on the Weather and History Channels in 2006 and on the BBC-Discovery Channel in 2007.