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Research suggests storm activity in Nova Scotia was heavy centuries ago

Bishop’s University student Frank Oliva handles a sediment core while assisting the research project conducted by Matthew Peros in Nova Scotia.
Former PhD student Frank Oliva handles a sediment core while assisting the research project conducted by Matthew Peros in Nova Scotia. - Contributed

As Nova Scotians monitor Michael, the seventh hurricane of this Atlantic season, it may be hard to believe hurricanes were almost three times more frequent more than 300 years ago.

A recent study of Robinson Lake, co-authored by Frank Oliva and Matthew Peros, showed four to five strikes similar to hurricane Juan occurred from 1450 to 1700.

With sea temperatures on the rise in the Atlantic, the research team’s findings may indicate stronger seasons to come, said Peros, a professor at Bishop’s University.

“Frequency is controlled by lots of factors, one of which is most important is sea surface temperatures,” said Peros in a phone interview Tuesday. “During this time period, there’s evidence that sea surface temperatures may have been a bit warmer due to changes in ocean currents.

“What this tells us is that sea surface temperature variability off the east coast of North America, the Maritimes, the U.S., seems to be very important at directing major hurricanes toward the coastline.”

The research team collected sediment cores in 2014 from Robinson Lake after noticing paleotempestology, the study of past hurricane activity, hasn’t been done in Canada before.



“After talking to the Nova Scotia government and local residents, we came across Robinson Lake, which we found had been flooded and heavily impacted by the hurricane,” recalled Peros.

“That told us the site was probably sensitive to hurricane activity, meaning that in addition to having been impacted by this recent event, it may have been affected by events in the recent past.”

Over the past 100 years, hurricanes that struck that area of the coast were roughly one every few decades or so, said Peros.

“We were able to see different peaks corresponded directly to hurricane Juan and some other peaks farther back into the past,” said Peros. “But the only one that’s really had a particular impact on this well was hurricane Juan, which at the time was a Category 2.”

Years before and after 1450 to 1700 showed none to very little evidence of hurricane activity, said the professor.

The group, led by Oliva, compared their findings to a similar study done in Cape Cod, Mass., and found similar hurricane activity results.

Peros said the team hopes to return to use similar techniques to study winter storm patterns in the area.

The hurricane study was funded by Canada Research Chairs program, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

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