Peter Van Hengstum's Portrait

Peter Van Hengstum

Associate Professor

Biography

Peter van Hengstum conducts research on hurricanes. Specifically, he uses historical and long-term reconstructions of hurricane activity in the western North Atlantic to ultimately improve hurricane preparedness and resilience.

For example, he and colleagues from other universities analyzed sediment deposited in a coastal pond in Cape Cod, Mass. Annual layers of mud were deposited in the pond, but hurricane strikes deposited a distinct layer of sand mobilized from the adjacent beach.

They were able to detect storms that hit New England from a time period covering the height of the Roman Empire to early colonial America and the arrival of the first pilgrims, up to the present day.

Van Hengstum says the team believes the storms were likely more intense than almost any storm ever seen in the Cape Cod area, including Hurricane Bob in 1991 and an un-named storm that hit the area in 1635 and caused storm surges of at least 20 feet.

But there was an active period starting in about 1400 that lasted until 1675, when storm activity increased significantly, the team learned.

The researchers calculate that an intense storm pounded the Northeast about every 40 years or so, and most of these would be classified at least as a Category 3 or Category 4 storm – storms that would totally devastate New England if they hit today. By comparison, Sandy was only a Category 1 storm with winds of 80 miles per hour when it made landfall.

He is an associate professor in the Department of Marine Sciences at Texas A&M at Galveston.

He earned an MSc in earth and environmental sciences from McMaster University (Canada) and a PhD in earth sciences from Dalhousie University (Canada).