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How Hurricanes Shape Florida’s Environment

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Mangrove trees have adapted to Florida's storms. Professor Kelly Kibler says systems like these can teach us valuable lessons about resilience. Photo: Steve Hillebrand, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Hurricanes in Florida are not unusual, but the science behind them can teach us a lot about the environment. Without the occasional hurricane- what would our coastal landscape and the ecosystem around it look like? Kelly Kibler, associate professor of water resources engineering at UCF, joined Intersection to discuss the impact of hurricanes on the environment. 

As a water resources engineer, Kibler examines how natural ecosystems function and how water moves within those systems. She says that living materials can be more resilient to strong storms and other climatic events. 

“There is a role for these really, really strong extreme events, as terrible as they are for us humans, our ecosystem has evolved with them and has ways to cope with it.”

Kibler says that hurricanes shape the environment in significant ways.  

“The ecosystem, especially like the plants and the animals that can inhabit a particular place are really influenced by the environmental conditions of that place. And if you take away something as important as a hurricane, it would be difficult to even predict what our landscape would look like, what the vegetation would look like, what the animals or what our diversity would look like.”

Kibler says our usual response to climatic events is to rebuild infrastructures and systems, which might not work in every situation. 

“There are other situations that, you know, things like green nourishment of barrier islands that are being washed away repeatedly or something like this, that if there is the need to think long-term about the strategies that we’re employing, and if they’re temporary fixes, or if they’re actual adaptations.”

While past hurricane seasons have been active, Kibler says the severity of the storm does not always determine what will happen in the area, like with coastal erosion. 

“Every storm is not created equally,” she says. 

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