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Hurricane Katrina's Effect on Water Quality

Vegetation plays a large role in water quality because it retains water, stabilizes soils and generates organic matter. To investigate whether the destruction of trees and vegetation during Hurricane Katrina affected local streams, NSF-funded researchers analyzed water samples from the East Pearl River in southwestern Mississippi.

They found that the damage done to trees in Hurricane Katrina had only a minimal effect on the water quality of the East Pearl River. The researchers attribute this lack of significant change to the natural resilience of the watershed system, the slow rate of organic material degradation and subsequent slow transport of these materials. However, if the frequency of hurricanes in this region increases, permanent landscape or ecosystem changes could occur, resulting in long-term water quality changes.

The researchers, who had studied water quality in the area prior to the hurricane, continued their work for two years following the storm. This expanded investigation allowed the scientists to compare water samples from before and after the hurricane. For the short term, the researchers discovered that the vegetative destruction within the river basin did not substantially change the river's water quality, and that any small changes were likely temporary.

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  • east pearl river near stennis space center, mississippi after katrina
The East Pearl River near Stennis Space Center, Miss., a month after Hurricane Katrina.
Charlotte Brunner, The University of Southern Mississippi

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