ABSTRACT

Jones, R., 2015. Quantifying extreme weather event impacts on the northern Gulf Coast using Landsat imagery.

Recent high-profile hurricanes have demonstrated the destructiveness of extreme events on coastal landscapes to the world. Barrier islands across the planet are disappearing, exposing vulnerable coastal cities to the damage caused by extreme events. Growing resolve among scientists regarding climate change's connection to tropical cyclones heightens the concern around intensifying extremes and landscape dynamics. This study uses more than 600 Landsat images to examine the role of extreme events on barrier island morphology on three of the Mississippi–Alabama barrier islands from 1972 to 2013. Each island, West Ship Island (WSI), East Ship Island (ESI), and Petit Bois Island (PBI), was measured for area in hectares 14 times per year on average with higher temporal resolution before and after hurricanes, allowing for a high-resolution statistical history of surface area change and the quantification of the impact of extreme weather events. The results reveal that extreme events, specifically hurricanes, mid-latitude cyclones, and thunderstorms, shape the islands more than gradual erosion and accretion processes across all islands. Thunderstorms, winter cyclones, and tropical cyclones each affect the island in different ways, eroding from different areas upon impact. Catastrophic events caused 52–59% of all land area change on the islands during the study period. Hurricanes caused 27–37% of all change across the islands, thunderstorms 11–13%, and mid-latitude cyclones 11–14%. Each of the islands lost at least one-quarter of its 1972–73 areas: WSI 25%, ESI 39%, and PBI 38%. WSI and ESI are both in post-Katrina (2005) regrowth periods, whereas PBI continues to experience net erosion.

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