How Can A Tropical Storm Erase an Island from the World Map? (Credit: NASA Earth Observatory)
DISCUSSION: Even though a lot of the northern hemisphere is early in the heart of the 2018 – 2019 Winter season, it is still important to take in and reflect upon various aspects of the recently concluded 2018 Atlantic and East Pacific hurricane seasons. One of the bigger issues when it comes to intense tropical cyclones which many people do not consider right away is the inherent threat with coastal beach erosion as well as overall land destruction during a close encounter or even a direct landfall. During such events, whether it be a close call or a direct strike, tremendous coastal and even semi inland damaged can often quite easily occur as a result of both the wind and storm surge associated with a powerful tropical cyclone. One such example and incredibly humbling example of this scenario unfolding happened to occur in association with Hurricane Walaka over in the Central Pacific Ocean (i.e., the Central Pacific Ocean basin being considered to also be counted in conjunction with East Pacific tropical cyclones).
Well to the north and west of the Hawaiian Islands (i.e., roughly 550 miles or so away), there is a more isolated and remote island known as East Island which was in the path of a departing Hurricane Walaka. As shown in the graphic above (courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory), this island happened to be a remote sanctuary for local and regional wildlife from across parts of the Central Pacific. However, as Hurricane Walaka approached the island from the distance, the incoming storm surge was powerful enough (even at a substantial distance from the remote sanctuary island) to nearly completely overwhelm the associated inlets and coastal regions surrounding this island. In doing so, Hurricane Walaka proved that a given tropical cyclone does not need to even relatively close to inflict tremendous damage on an island or island chain for that matter.
Attached here is an excerpt from the original article which was published by the NASA Earth Observatory concerning the historical and ecological context behind East Island and what Hurricane Walaka meant to the situation overall:
“The Operational Land Imager on Landsat 8 captured these natural-color images of East Island on September 11 (left) and October 13, 2018 (right). The storm washed away the 11-acre strip of sand and gravel, and only two slivers of land have re-emerged since the hurricane struck. Storm surges also deposited sand and debris across Tern Island, which is northwest of East Island.
East Island is part of the French Frigate Shoals, one of the most significant coral reef systems in Papahānaumokuākea. The archipelago formed millions of years ago when a deep-sea “hotspot” created underwater volcanoes, which eventually rose to the ocean’s surface to became islands. While East Island was uninhabited by people, it provided nesting grounds for the threatened Hawaiian green sea turtles and pupping grounds for endangered monk seals, of which there are only 1,400 in the world.
Scientists believe many of the animals had already left the island before the hurricane hit because it was the end of turtle and seal breeding season. However, unhatched turtle nests were likely affected. Researchers must wait until next year to return to the islets for a more extensive survey of the impact on wildlife. In the meantime, a marine debris team worked within the Monument zone in early November to remove more than 160,000 pounds of lost or abandoned fishing nets and plastic that could endanger marine animals.
East Island is not the first island to disappear from the French Frigate Shoals. Whale-Skate Islet was lost to erosion in the 1990's, while Trig Island eroded earlier in 2018—a common occurrence in sand-dominated ecosystems. Scientists believe the mammals adapted to the ecosystem changes at Whale-Skate and Trig by finding new breeding locations, so they expect the same to happen now that East Island is gone.”
To gain access to the original article in its entirety, click here!
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© 2018 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz