Coral Reefs

, Volume 12, Issue 3–4, pp 203–221

The geological effects of hurricanes on coral reefs and the interpretation of storm deposits

  • T. P. Scoffin


Hurricanes occur in belts 7° to 25° north and south of the equator. Reefs growing in these belts suffer periodic damage from hurricane-generated waves and storm surge. Corals down to 20m depth may be broken and removed, branching colonies being much more susceptible to breakage than upright massive forms. Sand cays may be washed away and former storm ridges may migrate to leeward across reef flats to link with islands. Reef crest and reef front coral debris accumulate as talus at the foot of the fore-reef slope, on submarine terraces and grooves, on the intertidal reef flat as storm ridges of shingle or boulders and isolated blocks of reef framework, as accreting beach ridges of leeward migrating shingle, as lobes and wedges of debris in back-reef lagoons, as drapes of carbonate sand and mud in deep off-reef locations in the fore-reef and lagoonal areas. In addition to the coarse debris deposited, other features may aid the recognition of former hurricane events, including the assemblage of reef biota, its species composition and the structure of the skeletons; graded internal sediments in framework cavities; characteristic sequences of encrusting organisms; characteristic shapes of reef flat microatoll corals; and submarine cement crusts over truncated reef surfaces. The abundance of reef flat storm deposits whose ages cluster around 3000–4000 y BP in certain parts of the world most likely relate to a slight fall in relative sea level rather than an increase in storminess during that period. A higher frequency of storms need not result in more reef flat storm deposits. The violence of the storm relative to normal fair-weather conditions influences the extent of damage; the length of time since the previous major storm influences the amount of coral debris created; the length of time after the hurricane, and before a subsequent storm influences the degree of stabilization of reef-top storm deposits and hence their chances of preservation.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Baines GBK, McLean RF (1976) Sequential studies of hurricane deposits evolution at Funafuti Atoll. Mar Geol 21:M1-M8Google Scholar
  2. Baines GBK, Beveridge PK, Maragos JE (1974) Storms and island building at Funafuti Atoll Ellice Islands. Proc 2nd Int Coral Reef Symp 2:485–496Google Scholar
  3. Ball MM, Shinn EA, Stockman KW (1967) The geological effects of Hurricane Donna in south Florida. J Geol 75:583–597Google Scholar
  4. Bayliss-Smith TP (1988) The role of hurricanes in the development of reef islands, Ontong Java Atoll, Solomon Islands. Geogr J 154:377–391Google Scholar
  5. Blumenstock DI (1958) Typhoon effects at Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Nature 182:1267–1269Google Scholar
  6. Blumenstock DI (ed) (1961) A report on typhoon effects upon Jaluit Atoll. Atoll Res Bull 75:1–105Google Scholar
  7. Blumenstock DI, Fosberg FR, Johnson CG (1961) A resurvey of typhoon effects on Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Nature 189:618–620Google Scholar
  8. Bourrouilh-Le Jan FG, Talandier J (1985) Sédimentation et fracturation de haute énergie en milieu récifal-Tsunamis, ouragans et cyclones et leur effets sur le sédimentologie et la gèomorphologie d'un atoll: Motu et hoa à Rangiroa, Tuamotu, Pacifique SE. Mar Geol 67:263–333Google Scholar
  9. Buddemeier RW, Smith SV, Kinzie RA (1975) Holocene windward reef flat history, Enewetak Atoll. Geol Soc Am Bull 86:1581–1584Google Scholar
  10. Chivas A, Chapell J, Polach H, Pillans B, Flood P (1986) Radiocarbon evidence for the timing and rate of island development, beachrock formation and phosphatization at Lady Elliot Island, Queensland, Australia. Mar Geol 69:273–287Google Scholar
  11. Choi DR, Ginsburg RN (1983) Distribution of coelobites (cavitydwellers) in coral rubble across the Florida Reef Tract. Coral Reefs 2:165–172Google Scholar
  12. Cloud PE (1952) Preliminary report on the geology and marine environments of Onotoa Atoll, Gilbert Islands. Atoll Res Bull 12:1–73Google Scholar
  13. Curray JR, Shepard FP, Veeh HH (1970) Late Quaternary sea level studies in Micronesia: CARMARSEL expedition. Bull Geol Soc Am 81:1865–1880Google Scholar
  14. Done TJ (1992) Effects of tropical cyclone waves on ecological and geomorphological structures on the Great Barrier Reef. Cont Shelf Res 12:859–872Google Scholar
  15. Enos P, Moore CH (1983) Fore-reef slope environment. In Scholle PA, Bebout DG, Moore CH (eds) Carbonate depositional environments. Am Assoc Petrol Geol Mem 33:507–537Google Scholar
  16. Fairbridge RW, Teichert C (1947) The rampart system at Low Isles, 1928–1945. Rep Gt Barrier Reef Comm 6:1–16Google Scholar
  17. Fairbridge RW, Teichert C (1948) The Low Isles of the Great Barrier Rcef: a new analysis. Geogr J 111:67–88Google Scholar
  18. Flood PG (1986) Sensitivity of coral cays to climatic variations, southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Coral Reefs 5:13–18Google Scholar
  19. Flood PG, Jell JS (1977) The effect of cyclone “David” (January 1976) on the sediment distribution patterns on Heron Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Proc 3rd Int Coral Reef Symp 2:119–125Google Scholar
  20. Gleghorn RJ (1947) Cyclone damage on the Great Barrier Reef. Rep Gt Barrier Reef Comm 6:17–19Google Scholar
  21. Glynn PW, Almodovar LR, Gonzales JG (1964) Effects of Hurricane Edith on marine life in La Paraguera, Puerto Rico. Caribb J Sci 4:335–345Google Scholar
  22. Graus RR, Macintyre IG, Herchenroder BE (1984) Computer simulation of the reef zonation at Discovery Bay, Jamaica. Hurricane disruption and long term physical oceanography controls. Coral Reefs 3:59–68Google Scholar
  23. Guilcher A (1988) Coral reef geomorphology. John Wiley, Chichester.Google Scholar
  24. Harmelin-Vivien ML (1985) Hurricane effects on coral reefs: introduction. Proc 5th Int Coral Reef Symp 3:315Google Scholar
  25. Harmelin-Vivien ML, Laboute P (1986) Catastrophic impact of hurricanes on atoll outer reef slopes in the Tuamotu (French Polynesia). Coral Reefs 5:55–62Google Scholar
  26. Hernandez-Avila ML, Roberts HH, Rouse LJ (1977) Hurricane generated waves and coastal boulder rampart formation. Proc 3rd Int Coral Reef Symp 2:71–78Google Scholar
  27. Hopley D (1982) The Geomorphology of the Great Barrier Reef. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  28. Hopley D, Isdale P (1977) Coral micro-atolls, tropical cyclones and reef-flat morphology: a north Queensland example. Search 8:79–81Google Scholar
  29. Hubbard DK, Parsons KM, Bythell JC, Walker ND (1991) The effects of Hurricane Hugo on the reefs and associated environments of St Croix, US Virgin Islands-a preliminary assessment. J Coastal Res 8:33–48Google Scholar
  30. James NP, Ginsburg RN (1977) The seaward margin of Belize barrier and atoll reefs. Spec Pub no 3 Int Assoc Sedimentologists, 191pGoogle Scholar
  31. Johnson DP, Carter RM, Gagan MK, Dye JE, Carr DL (1986) Sediment redistribution on the Great Barrier Reef Shelf by Cyclone Winifred. Workshop on the offshore effects of Cyclone Winifred. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Workshop Series no 7:44–45Google Scholar
  32. Kjerfve B, Dinnel SP (1983) Hindcast hurricane characteristics on the Belize Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs 1:1–5Google Scholar
  33. Kjerfve B, Magill KE, Porter JW, Woodley JD (1986) Hindcasting of hurricane characteristics and observed storm damage on a fringing reef. Jamaica, West Indies. J Mar Res 44:119–148Google Scholar
  34. Laboute P (1985) Evaluation dés degats causés par les passages des cyclones de 1982–1983 en Polynese française sur les pentes externes des atolls de Tikehan et de Takapoto (Archipel des Tuamotu). Proc 5th Int Coral Reef Symp 3:323–329Google Scholar
  35. Lighty RG (1985) Preservation of internal reef porosity and diagenetic sealing of submerged early Holocene Barrier Reef, southeast Florida Shelf. In: Schneidermann N, Harris PM (eds) Carbonate Cements. SEPM Spec Pub 36:123–151Google Scholar
  36. Mah AJ, Stearn CW (1986) The effect of Hurricane Allen on the Bellairs fringing reef, Barbados. Coral Reefs 4:169–176Google Scholar
  37. Maragos JE, Baines GBK, Beveridge PJ (1973) Tropical cyclone creates a new land formation on Funafuti Atoll. Science 181:1161–1164Google Scholar
  38. Martindale W (1992) Calcified epibionts as palaeoecological tools: examples from the Recent and Pleistocene reefs of Barbados. Coral Reefs 11:167–177Google Scholar
  39. McKee ED (1959) Storm sediments on a Pacific atoll. J Sediment Petrol 29:354–364Google Scholar
  40. McLean RF (1993) A two thousand year history of low latitude tropical storms, preliminary results from Funafuti Atoll, Tuvalu. Proc 7th Int Coral Reef Symp (in press)Google Scholar
  41. McLeam RF, Stoddart DR (1978) Reef island sediments of the northern Great Barrier Reef. Philos Trans R Soc London A291:101–117Google Scholar
  42. McLean RF, Stoddart DR, Hopley D, Polach H (1978) Sea level change in the Holocene on the northern Great Barrier Reef. Philos Trans R Soc London A291:167–186Google Scholar
  43. Montaggioni LF, Pirazzoli PA (1984) The significance of exposed coral conglomerates from French Polynesia (Pacific Ocean) as indicators of recent sea-level changes. Coral Reefs 3:29–42Google Scholar
  44. Moorhouse FW (1936) The cyclone of 1934 and its effect on Low Isles with special observations on Porites. Rep Great Barrier Reef Comm 4:37–44Google Scholar
  45. Morita RY (1976) Joint Oceanographic Assembly, Edinburgh 1976. Proceedings Abstracts. Rome, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, p 117Google Scholar
  46. Neumann AC (1971) Quaternary sea level data from Bermuda. Quaternaria 14:41–43Google Scholar
  47. Neumann AC, Macintyre IG (1985) Reef response to sea level rise: keep-up, catch-up or give-up Proc 5th Int Coral Reef Symp 3:105–119Google Scholar
  48. Newell ND (1954) Reefs and sedimentary processes of Raroia. Atoll Res Bull 36:1–32Google Scholar
  49. Perkins RD, Enos P (1986) Hurricane Betsy in the Florida-Bahamas area-geologic effects and comparison with Hurricane Donna. J Geol 76:710–717Google Scholar
  50. Randall RH, Eldredge LG (1977) Effects of Typhoon Pamela on the coral reefs of Guam. Proc 3rd Int Coral Reef Symp 2:525–532Google Scholar
  51. Riddle MJ (1988) Cyclone and bioturbation effects on sediments from coral reef lagoons. Estuarine Coastal Shelf Sci 27:687–695Google Scholar
  52. Sammarco PW, Risk MJ (1990) Large-scale patterns in internal bioerosion of Porites: cross-continental shelf trends on the Great Barrier Reef. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 59:145–156Google Scholar
  53. Scoffin TP, McLean RF (1978) Exposed limestones of the northern province of the Great Barrier Reef. Philos Trans R Soc London A291:119–138Google Scholar
  54. Scoffin TP, Stoddart DR (1978) The nature and significance of microatolls. Philos Trans R Soc London B284:99–122Google Scholar
  55. Scoffin TP, Hendry MD (1984) Shallow water sclerosponges on Jamaican reefs and a criterion for recognition of hurricane deposits. Nature 307:728–729Google Scholar
  56. Scoffin TP, Tudhope AW (1993) The nature of the sedimentary record within Quaternary reefs of Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines. Proc 7th Int Coral Reef Symp (in press)Google Scholar
  57. Scoffin TP, Stoddart DR, McLean RF, Flood PG (1978) The Recent development of the reefs in the northern province of the Great Barrier Reef. Philos Trans R Soc London B284:129–139Google Scholar
  58. Shinn EA (1972) Coral reef recovery in Florida and the Persian Gulf. Houston Shell Oil Company, Environmental Conservation DepartmentGoogle Scholar
  59. Simpson RH, Reihl H (1981) The hurricane and its impact. Louisiana State University Press, Baton RougeGoogle Scholar
  60. Stoddart DR (1963) Effects of Hurricane Hattie on the British Honduras reefs and cays, October 30–31, 1961. Atoll Res Bull 95:1–142Google Scholar
  61. Stoddart DR (1969) Post-hurricane changes on the British Honduras reefs and cays: resurvey of 1965. Atoll Res Bull 131:1–25Google Scholar
  62. Stoddart DR (1974) Post hurricane changes on the British Honduras reefs: resurvey of 1972. Proc 2nd Int Coral Reefs Symp, Brisbane 2:473–483Google Scholar
  63. Stoddart DR (1971) Coral reefs and islands and catastrophic storms. In: Steers JE (ed) Applied coastal geomorphology. Macmillan, London, pp 155–197Google Scholar
  64. Stoddart DR (1985) Hurricane effects on coral reefs: conclusion. Proc 5th Int Coral Reef Symp 3:349–350Google Scholar
  65. Stoddart DR, McLean RF, Hopley D (1978a) Geomorphology of reef islands, northern Great Barrier Reef. Philos Trans R Soc London B284:39–61Google Scholar
  66. Stoddart DR, McLean RF, Scoffin TP, Gibbs PE (1978b) Forty-five years of change on low wooded Islands, Great Barrier Reef. Philos Trans R Soc London B284:63–80Google Scholar
  67. Stoddart DR, McLean RF, Scoffin TP, Thom BG, Hopley D (1978c) Evolution of reefs and islands, northern Great Barrier Reef: synthesis and interpretation. Philos Trans R Soc London B284:149–159Google Scholar
  68. Talandier J, Bourrouilh-LeJan FG (1988) High energy sedimentation in French Polynesia: cyclone or tsunami? In: El-Sabh MI, Murty TS (eds) Natural and man-made hazards. Proceeding of International Symposium, Reidel Dordrecht, pp 193–199Google Scholar
  69. Umbgrove JHF (1947) Coral reefs of the East Indies. Geol Soc Am Bull 58:729–778Google Scholar
  70. Van Woesik R, Ayling AM, Mapstone B (1991) Impact of tropical cyclone ‘Ivor’ on the GBR Australia, J Coastal Res 7:551–558Google Scholar
  71. Verstappen HT (1954) The influence of climate changes on the formation of coral islands. Am J Sci 252:428–435Google Scholar
  72. Weins HJ (1962) Atoll environment and ecology. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  73. Woodley JD (1989) The effects of Hurricane Gilbert on coral reefs at Discovery Bay. UNEP 1989 Assessment of the economic impacts of Hurricane, Gilbert on coastal and marine resources in Jamaica. UNEP Regional Seas Reports and Studies 110:71–73Google Scholar
  74. Woodley JD (1992) The incidence of hurricanes on the north coast of Jamaica since 1870: are the classic reef descriptions atypical? Hydrobiologia (in press)Google Scholar
  75. Woodley JD et al. (1981) Hurricane Allen's impact on Jamaican Coral Reefs. Science 214:749–755Google Scholar
  76. Woodroffe CD, Stoddart DR, Spencer T, Scoffin TP, Tudhope AW (1990) Holocene emergence in the Cook Islands, South Pacific. Coral Reefs 9:31–39Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • T. P. Scoffin
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Geology and GeophysicsUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghScotland, UK

Personalised recommendations