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Department of Earth Sciences

HURRICANE Project

Welcome to the HURRICANE Project, based at the Durham University Earth Sciences Department. The HURRICANE Project is a five year, 1.4 million euro, project funded by the European Research Council and led by PI, Dr James Baldini. The research project aims to build a detailed picture of Atlantic hurricane activity over the last 500 years or longer using geochemical proxies in stalagmites from the Caribbean region. The record produced by the HURRICANE Project will overcome the limitations imposed by the brevity of existing datasets to permit statistically robust comparisons of hurricane activity between the pre- and post-anthropogenic greenhouse climate states. 

A comparison between recent hurricane activity (over the past few decades) and long-term natural hurricane variability (extending back several centuries) will enable us to assess possible causes of this variability be they anthropogenic or natural. Furthermore, by understanding the relationship between palaeoclimate and tropical cyclone dynamics, we will be one step closer to predicting future hurricane activity in the changing global climate.

The HURRICANE Project is a multi-institution effort with the main project team located in the Durham University Department of Earth Sciences and with several other team members and collaborators in the UK, US, and Switzerland. Together, the research team bring to the project expertise in palaeoclimatology, climate modelling, archaeology, karst geomorphology, and isotope geochemistry.

Three caves in Belize, Turks and Caicos islands, and Bermuda, have been selected that are: i) within the active Atlantic hurricane basin, ii) affected by tropical cyclones seasonally, and iii) well located to reveal any spatial variation in palaeo-tropical cyclone activity within the study area. Extensive cave monitoring has now been completed at Yok Balum Cave in southern Belize and Conch Bar Caves on Turks and Caicos's Middle Caicos Island and work is nearing completion at Leamington Cave in Bermuda to characterise the cave environments and enable accurate interpretation of the stalagmite palaeoclimate proxy records. Stalagmites from Turks and Caicos and Bermuda are currently undergoing high-resolution isotope and trace element analyses. Stalagmite YOK-G from Yok Balum Cave has yielded one of the best proxy-based low-latitude rainfall reconstructions ever produced. This reconstruction, published in February 2015 by Nature Geoscience (doi:10.1038/ngeo2353), has revealed the role of atmospheric aerosols (volcanic and man-made) in shifting the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) (i.e., the tropical rainfall belt) since 1550 A.D.

For more information about the HURRICANE Project, please check out the HURRICANE Project website.

PhD student Harriett Ridley inside Yok Balum Cave PhD student Harriett Ridley and collaborators installing soil monitoring equipment above Yok Balum