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Looking to the past to predict strength of hurricanes

Posted at 7:54 AM, Aug 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-21 07:54:37-04

BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. -- After hurricanes like Michael and Irma wreaked havoc in Florida, residents are awaiting the next possible storm and trying to predict how bad it will be. One scientist in Southwest Florida is looking underwater for the answers.

“It's a relatively new science." Florida Gulf Coast University's Joanne Muller and her team use long tubes to pull samples from the muck and dirt of the sea floor.

“We're pretty much looking for a really organic bottom. A lot of dark sediment, really fluffy sediment that we can actually get a core through," says researcher Adam Catasus.

The technique is called coring. It involves digging in the dirt underwater to uncover information about hurricanes from thousands of years ago, that can help predict how strong future hurricanes will be.

By studying patterns in the sediment, Muller points to evidence that forecasts more severe hurricanes. She matches up hurricane records with sea surface temperatures to predict the chaos these massive storms will create as sea temperatures continue to rise.

“At the moment we're projecting that we'll see more intense hurricanes in the future and the geologic record that we are uncovering, is showing the same thing."

Her predictions match up with the latest National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts. They warn of above normal hurricane activity, with the possibility of five to nine hurricanes. At least two of those could be major hurricanes.

"These cores, they tell a story and it's the thing that I love so much about geology, there's so much history there. It's really important that we can understand them as best as we can so that we can make more accurate predictions going forward," says Muller.

Hurricane season lasts until the end of November.

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