14 Feb 2023
 | 14 Feb 2023
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal NHESS.

Hurricane Irma: an unprecedented event over the last 3700 years? Geomorphological changes and sedimentological record in Codrington Lagoon, Barbuda

Maude Biguenet, Eric Chaumillon, Pierre Sabatier, Antoine Bastien, Emeline Geba, Fabien Arnaud, Thibault Coulombier, and Nathalie Feuillet

Abstract. Low-lying coasts and small islands, such as in the Lesser Antilles, are particularly vulnerable to hurricane-induced marine floods. In September 2017, Category 5 Hurricane Irma, with winds up to 360 km/h, hit the northern Caribbean islands and caused the destruction of 95 % of the structures on Barbuda Island. We investigated the geomorphological impacts and the sedimentological record of this hurricane in Barbuda’s Codrington Lagoon. Following Hurricane Irma, two wide inlets developed across the Codrington sandy barrier. One of these inlets enlarged and was still opened four years later. From available data, it seems that this barrier remained continuous for the last 250 years before Hurricane Irma. At a longer time scale, very high-resolution seismic exploration combined with sediment cores sampled in Codrington Lagoon were used to investigate Irma deposit and environmental changes for the last 3700 years. The evolution from a low-energy small and shallow lagoon to the modern wide and high-energy lagoon recorded by the lagoon sediment-fill was related to both long-term sea-level rise and subsidence. The top of the lagoon fill consists of a thick and extensive sand sheet recording an abrupt increase in energy. Given its location at the top of the cores, its very recent age supported by short-lived radionuclides data, together with large inlets opening and barrier erosion after Irma implying a large sand supply to the lagoon, this sand sheet was attributed to Hurricane Irma. From our cores, it appears that this deposit is unique over more than 3700 years. Both the opening of a new inlet and the thick upper sand sheet support the exceptional character of Irma at the scale of centuries to millennia. Our study reinforces the idea that Hurricane Irma was exceptional in terms of intensity and may be associated with global warming.

Maude Biguenet et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on nhess-2022-262', Anonymous Referee #1, 29 Mar 2023
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Maude Biguenet, 15 Jun 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on nhess-2022-262', Anonymous Referee #2, 14 Apr 2023
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC2', Maude Biguenet, 15 Jun 2023

Maude Biguenet et al.

Maude Biguenet et al.


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Short summary
This work documents the impact of Hurricane Irma (2017) on the Codrington barrier and lagoon on Barbuda Island. Irma caused two wide breaching in the sandy barrier, which remained unopened for 250 years. The thick and extensive sand sheet on the top of the lagoon fill was attributed to Irma. This unique deposit in a 3700 years record confirms Irma's exceptional character. This case study illustrates the consequences of high-intensity hurricanes in low-lying islands in a global warming context.