Hurricane impact research group

Led by Western professor Rob Young (in black shirt at center), a group of geosciences majors travelled to North Carolina's Outer Banks to conduct hurricane impact research.

CULLOWHEE - It’s not unusual for a group of college students to take advantage of a long weekend for a trip to the beach. But for a group of Western Carolina University geosciences majors, a recent trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks provided more than just an opportunity for rest and relaxation.

Eleven Western students under the guidance of professor Rob Young were spending time at the coast working on another “r” - research.

Young, a nationally known hurricane researcher, received a $5,000 grant from the Public Entity Risk Institute to investigate changes to the Cape Lookout National Seashore caused by Hurricane Isabel. After a 500-mile trip by car from the mountains of Western North Carolina to the coast, Young and his group took an hour-long ferry ride to reach the uninhabited Core Bank Islands. There, students dug trenches and collected sediment samples, boring down through sand deposited by last October’s storm to determine the impact of storm surge and overwash.

“Storm surge is the elevated water level associated with the passage of a hurricane, the so-called ‘storm tide,’ and it can raise coastal water levels 20 feet or more above normal high tide,” Young said. “Storm surge in combination with hurricane-driven waves drives the process of overwash, which involves storm waters being driven on top of and across the barrier island during the hurricane. These two processes together provide the formidable one-two punch of oceanfront property damage during a hurricane.”

Through their work, Young and his students will evaluate existing maps used by state and federal agencies to determine which sections of coastline are at greatest risk during hurricane impact, and will offer recommendations on how planners and emergency managers should modify those maps. Young said it is his hope that the study - and similar research he has conducted over the years on behalf of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the insurance industry - will lead to what he calls “more sensible” coastline development strategies.

Sarah Bonner
Geology major Sarah Bonner of Charlotte takes measurements.

“We’re trying to see how the geology of the coastline plays a role in determining where the most property damage will be,” he said. “We’re hoping to learn enough and come up with enough cold, hard facts to discourage people from building these expensive homes on the vulnerable portions of barrier islands.”

While on the island, the students slept in rustic cabins, cooking and bathing through solar-powered water heaters and appliances. In addition to having an interesting “wilderness” experience and a chance to participate in some significant scientific research, the students also will develop a paper for submission to a professional journal.

“It wasn’t your run-of-the-mill beach trip, that’s for sure,” Young said.

Participants in the research project:

Buncombe County - Christopher Bochicchio of Weaverville, senior geology major, 2000 graduate of North Buncombe High School.

Catawba County - Katie Stewart of Catawba, senior environmental chemistry and geology major, 2000 graduate of Bandys High School.

Clay County - Amanda Barnes of Hayesville, senior environmental geology major, 2000 graduate of Hayesville High School.

Forsyth County - Jason Jarvis of Clemmons, senior geology and biology major, 2000 graduate of West Forsyth High School.

Haywood County - Lukus Garland of Waynesville, senior geology major, 1995 graduate of Jackson (Ga.) High School.

Mecklenburg County - Sarah Bonner of Charlotte, senior geology major, 2000 graduate of Providence High School; and Thomas Phillips of Charlotte, senior geology major, 1998 graduate of West Charlotte High School.

Stanly County - Benjamin Blair of Stanfield, senior geology major, 1999 graduate of West Stanly High School; and Bryan Lowder of New London, senior geology major, 2000 graduate of North Stanly High School.

Wake County - Nick Bozdog of Cary, senior geology major, 1999 graduate of Cary High School.

Out-of-state - John Wetzel of Roswell, Ga., senior geology major, 1999 graduate of Roswell High School.

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Last modified: Tuesday, April 27, 2004
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