Catastrophic Storm Impact and Gradual Recovery on the Mississippi-Alabama Barrier Islands, 2005-2010: Changes in Vegetated and Total Land Area, and Relationships of Post-Storm Ecological Communities with Surface Elevation

Document Type


Publication Date



Geography and Geology


Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences


One of the most destructive tropical cyclones ever to strike the U.S., Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the Mississippi coast on 29th August 2005. The Mississippi-Alabama (MS-AL) barrier islands were subjected to storm breaching, area reduction, and vegetation loss caused by a number of parameters including salt spray, saltwater flooding, mechanical damage (e.g., ablation of bark from tree trunks), removal of plants and their soil substrate by scouring, burial under sand, and a 10-month, post-storm period of low rainfall. Repeated acquisitions of remotely-sensed data served as an essential tool in quantifying vegetated and total land area before and after the storm, and post-storm ecological community type and topographic elevation. Vegetated land area continued to decline on some islands in the first year following the storm. However, by November 2007, only 2.2 years after the storm, total vegetated land area had recovered to 72, 96, 77, 93, and 82%, and total subaerial land area to 97, 94, 33, 100, and 104%, of pre-Katrina values on Cat, W. Ship, E. Ship, Horn, and Petit Bois islands by natural re-growth and sediment accretion, respectively. Comparing ecological community-type maps that were developed from field and remotely-sensed data with LiDAR-derived digital elevation models determined that year 2010 ecological community type changed distinctively at the decimeter scale as mean surface elevation ranged from 0.1 m to 1.2 m. Storm-related changes in ecological community type included subtidal to supratidal sand flat, low marsh to wet or dry herbland, and woodland to wet herbland/shrubland.

Publication Title




First Page


Last Page


Find in your library