You are cordially invited to the SIGMA XI Lecture
"FORENSIC RECONSTRUCTION OF HISTORIC HURRICANES
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
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)
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.