Widespread mangrove damage resulting from the 2017 Atlantic Mega Hurricane Season uri icon

abstract

  • Comprised of 17 named tropical storms, 6 of which were major hurricanes, the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season ranked as one of the most damaging and costly hurricane seasons on record. In addition to socio-economic impacts, many previous studies have shown that important coastal ecosystems like mangroves are shaped by severe storms. However, little is known about how the cumulative effects of storms over entire hurricane seasons affect mangroves across large regions. We used satellite imagery from the entire Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico region to show that 2017 resulted in disproportionate mangrove damage compared to baseline responses over the previous 8 years. Specifically, we observed 30 times more mangrove damage, via a reduction in the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), during 2017 compared to any of the eight previous hurricane seasons, and most (72%) of this damage persisted throughout the 7 month post-hurricane season period as indicated by no NDVI recovery. Furthermore, wind speed, rainfall, and canopy height data showed that mangrove damage primarily resulted from high maximum wind speeds, but flooding (cumulative rainfall), previous storm history, and mangrove structure (canopy height) were also important predictors of damage. While mangroves are known to be resilient to hurricane impacts, our results suggest that increasingly frequent mega-hurricane seasons in the Caribbean region will dramatically alter mangrove disturbance dynamics.

publication date

  • 2020
  • 2020