Changed By Fiona: Coasts and forests (source by CBC News)

It’s definitely kind of given us a little bit more reason to work, to push forward.— Genevieve Keefe, coastal erosion researcher

Other questions posed after Fiona are difficult to answer, but some information about what happened along the coast is starting to emerge.

Masters and PhD students and post-doctorate fellows from around the world have been studying the storm’s aftermath through UPEI’s School of Climate Change and Adaptation. 

Five people stand on a beach, three of them carrying tape measures and other measuring tools.
Researchers from UPEI’s School of Climate Change and Adaptation have been studying Fiona since it happened, but now that the snow has melted and the warm spring weather has arrived, they can get out to see more of it for themselves. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC)

“Most of our research [was] kind of switched to coastal erosion for P.E.I.,” said associate professor Xander Wang.

“This is really a big issue and a reality issue … especially after Fiona. It kind of serves as a trigger for people to look for solutions.”

Early results show Fiona damaged about five per cent of the Island’s coastal land cover. There’s also about 100 square kilometres of extended, new beach — muddy areas where chunks of land fell into the sea.

For researchers like second-year PhD student Tianze Peng, Fiona shifted the lens.

It’s very important to understand… the intensity and the frequency of hurricanes.— Quan Dau, climate scientist 

“I thought my research [would] focus on the average or ordinary status, but Fiona — or the similar extreme storm events for the natural environment — [meant] a huge acceleration of the coastal change processes,” Peng said.

“I need to consider or compare the impact of extreme storm events and the ordinary status together to see the change or the processes of the coastline change.”

Little is known about what happened in the Gulf of St. Lawrence off P.E.I. during the peak of the storm. It was nighttime and the northern coastline was too dangerous to approach, given that emergency alerts were preparing some coastal residents for possible evacuation.

But Peng and his colleagues are working with models to figure out what happened. Based on satellite imagery and high-water lines measured on some local buildings, they believe the waves could have reared up as large as five metres — about 16 feet.

“A lot of people are asking about coastal erosion protection now that they’ve seen such a dramatic event like Fiona, so it’s definitely kind of given us a little bit more reason to work, to push forward,” said researcher Genevieve Keefe.

The PhD student examines how protective structures can help or hinder coastal erosion — a hot topic even before the storm because of controversial projects like the extended seawall at a site in Point DesRoches.

Her work and other projects will inform policy recommendations for the government that the school has been asked to provide.

The researchers said they are still four or five years away from tangible results, though.

“This is [a] very complicated area and people have been working on this kind of thing for decades. So it’s not necessarily a clear cut-and-dried answer for everybody,” Keefe said.

Drone shot shows a cottage subdivision near a beach that has large sandstone blocks piled against the bank to keep it from eroding.
Xander Wang and his team of PhD and post-doctorate researchers are still four to five years away from tangible results, but their work on erosion prevention will be shared with the government and the public so that Islanders can work towards protecting their coastal land. (Ryan McKellop/CBC)

Other researchers are looking at whether these types of storms are getting stronger and more frequent in places like P.E.I.

“At some certain point, there could be another event,” said post-doctoral researcher Quan Dau. “For us scientists, it’s very important to understand what is the intensity and the frequency of hurricanes — and also, we want to understand what is the main driver that accelerate[s] the hurricane pattern in the future.”

Source CBC News