Using a Geographic Information System to Assess the Risk of Hurricane Hazards on the Maya Civilization

Friday, 19 December 2014
Amanda Marie Weigel, Robert Griffin and Tom Sever, University of Alabama in Huntsville, Huntsville, AL, United States
The extent of the Maya civilization spanned across portions of modern day Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Paleoclimatic studies suggest this region has been affected by strong hurricanes for the past six thousand years, reinforced by archeological evidence from Mayan records indicating they experienced strong storms. It is theorized hurricanes aided in the collapse of the Maya, damaging building structures, agriculture, and ceasing industry activities. Today, this region is known for its active tropical climatology, being hit by numerous strong storms including Hurricane Dean, Iris, Keith, and Mitch. This research uses a geographic information system (GIS) to model hurricane hazards, and assess the risk posed on the Maya civilization. GIS has the ability to handle various layer components making it optimal for combining parameters necessary for assessing the risk of experiencing hurricane related hazards. For this analysis, high winds, storm surge flooding, non-storm surge related flooding, and rainfall triggered landslides were selected as the primary hurricane hazards. Data sets used in this analysis include the National Climatic Data Center International Best Track Archive for Climate Stewardships (IBTrACS) hurricane tracks, Shuttle Radar Topography Mission Digital Elevation Model, WorldClim monthly accumulated precipitation, USGS HydroSHEDS river locations, Harmonized World Soil Database soil types, and known Maya site locations from the Electronic Atlas of Ancient Maya Sites. ArcGIS and ENVI software were utilized to process data and model hurricane hazards. To assess locations at risk of experiencing high winds, a model was created using ArcGIS Model Builder to map each storm’s temporal wind profile, and adapted to simulate forward storm velocity, and storm frequency. Modeled results were then combined with physical land characteristics, meteorological, and hydrologic data to identify areas likely affected. Certain areas along the eastern edge of the Yucatan peninsula were found to be more prone to experiencing wind and flood related hurricane hazards. Novel methodologies developed from this analysis can be adapted for further hurricane risk assessment on archeological sites.