Ecological and Social Time Scales in Hurricane Response and Recovery (2019-2020)


Hurricane Florence’s destructive winds, waves and rainfall damaged infrastructure, habitats and communities across Eastern North Carolina and beyond. However, not all eastern North Carolina communities were impacted equally. In fact, sites just miles apart, such as the exposed ocean-front Outer Banks (such as Bogue Banks) and the sound-side communities “Down East,” experienced distinct storm impacts and recovery processes.

The Outer Banks offer physical protection to the mainland by adsorbing some of the punishing wind and wave energy of storms. While waves and wind destroy coastal infrastructure and reshape beaches, the ocean dilutes pathogens and pollutants in storm waters, quickly improving water quality. In contrast, low-lying communities Down East suffered destructive winds and sustained coastal flooding from storm waters that had the potential to carry fecal coliforms and waste contaminants from sewage, industrial sites and animal feeding operations. Geographic and socio-economic differences between these sites may also impact the ability of communities to adapt and recover from storm impacts including restoration of services, community identity and beach nourishment.

This storm presents a unique opportunity to examine human and ecological adaptation and maladaptation to these acute events and to provide insights regarding improved socio-environmental resilience. This topic is timely in light of long-term climate change trends including warming oceans, sea level rise and ocean acidification which will make the coasts more vulnerable to hurricanes and other ecological disturbances.

Project Description

This project seeks to address the chemical, biological, economic, infrastructure and human impacts of Hurricane Florence as well as the post-hurricane recovery process. Building on the background and expertise of individuals from the Coastal Monitoring site at the Duke Marine Lab as well as geomorphic and economic research relating to hurricane response and recovery decision-making, this team will explore hurricane-related changes to coastal ecosystems as well as how individual and government decisions influences the recovery and resilience of the built environment and communities.

The team will also explore how ecosystems and communities in close proximity but with different geographies and/or socioeconomic histories weathered the storm differently.  The team will survey the available data for storm-related changes in physical, biological, chemical, economic and cultural metrics. The goal of the Spring semester is to identify knowledge gaps and areas of synergy across researchers at Duke and beyond.

Anticipated Outputs

Publications synthesizing impacts of Hurricane Florence on eastern North Carolina ecosystems, infrastructure and human communities; symposium for all Hurricane Florence-related Bass Connections projects; educational and outreach materials for public


Spring 2019 – Fall 2019

  • Spring 2019: Begin weekly team meetings and seminars on hurricane responses; identify data resources and knowledge gaps
  • Summer 2019: Select students begin research on identified knowledge gaps; begin stakeholder engagement; develop and share reports
  • Fall 2019: Continue research; organize symposium at Duke Marine Lab for all Hurricane Florence-related Bass Connections teams; identify path forward for understanding human and ecosystem responses to hurricanes (grant development)

This Team in the News

New Project Teams Will Tackle Research to Inform Hurricane Preparedness and Resiliency Efforts

Scenes from Hurricane Florence.

Team Leaders

  • Jessica Gronniger, Nicholas School - Marine Science & Conservation-PHD
  • Dana Hunt, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation

/graduate Team Members

  • Hanyu Wang, Environment-AM

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Melissa Baldino, Biology (BS), Environmental Sci/Policy (AB2)
  • Joyce Gu, Environmental Engineering(BSE)
  • Barbara Weaver, Biology (BS)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Leslie Acton, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation
  • Elizabeth DeMattia, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation
  • Zackary Johnson, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation
  • A. Brad Murray, Nicholas School of the Environment-Earth and Ocean Sciences
  • Martin Smith, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Carteret County Schools
  • Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center