Weathered Words

Assistant Professor of biology David Richardson was one of many co-authors of a paper titled “Ecosystem Effects of a Tropical Cyclone on a Network of Lakes in Northeastern North America,” which led him to research the storms’ effects on Lake Sunapee in N.H. and Canada’s Lac Croche and Lac Simoncouche.

Richardson is a freshwater ecologist interested in how freshwater ecosystems function and how food webs work within lakes and rivers. Richardson examined the effects of Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Lee on the lakes’ physical and biological processes.

While attending an annual conference for the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network, Richardson and his colleagues were inspired to write a paper on their findings from a series of buoys in lakes around the world that record environmental parameters like temperature, wind and others every 15 minutes.

His findings in this study said hurricanes have a great effect on the lakes’ ecosystems and the physical and biological processes in the lakes, Richardson said.

“Lakes stratify throughout the summer, they form layers of warm water on top that are heated by the sun and cool waters below in the deep, these layers typically do not mix,” Richardson said. “However, when the tropical cyclones — hurricane or tropical storm — came through the northeastern United States, lakes mixed up completely because of the heavy winds and rains.”

Jessica Horn, a New Paltz alumna, said the hurricanes and tropical storms do not only have a great effect on rivers and lakes, but also on the land.

“More intense rain can cause lakes to overflow and that could affect the land,” Horn said. “Erosion is one of the biggest detrimental factors on archaeological sites.”

With his research, Richardson said  he found that materials move down into the lakes and stimulate respiration in small organisms, increasing the activity of those organisms.

Though Richardson and his team did not study the inorganic pollutants from the storms, he said he imagines that “contamination” was an issue in certain areas.

Biology teacher Jamie Bereska said the “storm surge” in lakes from tropical storms can also cause erosion in the shorelines, affecting and occasionally damaging property.

“Water quality can also be impacted from nutrient runoff into lakes causing algae blooms,” Bereska said. “Furthermore, hurricanes often cause sewage spills which can lead to high bacteria levels and toxins in lakes which adversely affect the organisms living in the water.”

Richardson said the effects of “extreme weather events” like heavy storms and droughts will become more frequent as climates continue to change.

“We will have to address major storms and these environmental sensors will help us do that and understand the link between the air, land, water and human systems,” Richardson said. “Many of these lakes and reservoirs serve as sources of hydroelectric power, drinking water and recreation.”