Nationally Known Hurricane Expert to Share Post-Katrina Research

04/03/2006

Nationally Known Hurricane Expert to Share Post-Katrina Research

Nationally recognized hurricane impact researcher Robert Young, associate professor of geosciences at Western Carolina University, will discuss "Atlantic Hurricanes: Hot New Science, Same Old Policy," when he delivers the Lester W. Strock Lecture in Geosciences this month. The talk will begin at 7 p.m. Monday, April 10, in Gannett Auditorium of Palamountain Hall. Admission is free and open to the public.

Over the past 20 years, Young has conducted research on behalf of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Science Foundation, and the insurance industry through its Public Entity Risk Institute. He also maintains the Coastal Hazards Information Clearinghouse, a web-based resource for information about coastal hazards and detailed hazard maps of most U.S. shorelines.

Following Hurricane Katrina last August, Young and colleague Andrew S. Coburn, of the Duke University Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, chartered a small airplane and flew over the Gulf Coast from Pensacola, Fla., to Grand Island, La. Young said then, "I have been on the scene of every major hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. since Hurricane Hugo in 1989. The damage caused by Hurricane Katrina is by far the most damage I have ever seen." Young's research was directed at Katrina's effect on the coastal communities of Alabama and Mississippi. The overflight was part of his examination of such factors as storm surge, storm over-wash, and patterns of damage and debris to help determine why some sections of coastline fare better than others during major storms.

Young has long advocated a new scale that would forecast with greater detail what happens when storms move on shore. Although the Saffir-Simpson scale (which ranks the severity of hurricanes as category one to five, depending upon such elements as barometric pressure, wind speed, and storm surge) describes the strength of a hurricane in the open ocean, it is not as effective in predicting the effect of a hurricane on the shore at landfall, according to Young. Instead, he believes that such factors as coastal geomorphology, storm history, and other characteristics also play a major role in a particular storm's destructiveness.

Through their work studying Katrina and other hurricanes, Young and his colleagues hope to convince government officials and policy-makers to re-examine notions of appropriate places on the coast to build, and in the case of the Gulf Coast, to rebuild.

Young earned a B.S. degree in geology at the College of William and Mary, an M.S. degree in quaternary studies and geology at the University of Maine, and a Ph.D. degree in geology at Duke University, where he wrote a dissertation titled "The impact of sea-level rise on the coastal wetlands in Albemarle, Pamlico, and Carrituck Sounds, North Carolina: A study of sedimentology, stratigraphy, and wetland dynamics."

Skidmore's Lester W. Strock Lecture was endowed by geochemist Lester Strock, a well-known authority on Saratoga's mineral springs. Strock, who died in 1982, spent much of his career in research at MIT and at the Sylvania Electric Co. The First-Year Experience is a co-sponsor of the Strock Lecture this year.
Tags: robert young, events, community, academics, lester strock, student organizations
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