Vegetation cover and relationships of habitat-type with elevation on the Mississippi-Alabama Barrier Islands in the initial six years after Hurricane Katrina
Tuesday, 15 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Quantifying change in vegetation and geomorphic features which occur during and after storm impact is necessary toward understanding barrier island habitat resiliency under continued climate warming and sea level rise. In August, 2005, the Mississippi-Alabama barrier islands, including, from west-to-east, Cat, West Ship, East Ship, Horn, Petit Bois and Dauphin islands, were completely inundated by the tidal surge of Hurricane Katrina. Overwash, scouring, burial under sand, and mechanical damage combined with saltwater flooding and post-storm drought resulted in immediate and long-term vegetation loss. Remotely-sensed data acquired before (2004-2005) and after (2005-2011) Katrina were compared via image classification to determine immediate storm impacts and assess natural re-growth of land area and vegetation. By 2008, merely three years after the storm, total land area of Cat, West Ship, East Ship, Horn, Petit Bois and West Dauphin had recovered to 92, 90, 33, 99, 93 and 91 percent, and total vegetated land area to 85, 101, 85, 94, 83 and 102 percent of pre-Katrina values, respectively. Habitat-type maps developed from field survey, SPOT-5 and radar data were compared with LIDAR-derived elevation models to assess 2010 habitat-type distribution with respect to ground elevation. Although median MSL elevations associated with habitat classes ranged only from 0.5 m to 1.4 m, habitat-type changed distinctively with decimeter-scale changes in elevation. Low marsh, high marsh, estuarine shrubland, slash pine woodland, beach dune, bare sand and beach dune herbland were associated with median elevations of 0.5, 0.9, 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4 m ± 0.1 m, respectively. The anticipated increases in sea level and tropical storm energy under a continually warming climate will likely inhibit the reformation of higher-elevation habitat-types, such as shrublands and woodlands, in the 21st century.