University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

NEWS RELEASE

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UW-Eau Claire Researcher
Studies Windstorms in Canada

 MAILED:  Dec. 13, 2004

EAU CLAIRE — Harry Jol, associate professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Derald Smith from the University of Calgary, and Norm Smith from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, have found indications that "paleo super windstorms" apparently raged for days and caused hurricane-force gales in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The three earth scientists, with Derald Smith as the lead author, presented a paper in November at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver. They showed images of erosion from the storms and argued that winds up to 120 miles an hour must have come from the northwest.

Jol, who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Calgary, said the team looked at sediments in the area using ground penetrating radar and dating techniques and concluded that about every 2,000 years a large erosion took place, completely reshaping the delta. Their analysis concludes that at least four super windstorms blew through the Lake Athabasca area 2,000 to 8,000 years ago.

Altogether 100-200 cubic feet of sand was blown by wind or eroded by water during the storms. They calculate that the erosion was caused by a wind-driven current that flowed at up to 20 feet a second.

"The most likely explanation is that huge paleo storms of more than 60 miles an hour blew for days and created large waves," Jol said. "Today this area, known as the AthabascaTar Sands, holds one of North America's largest oil reserves. It's time to realize that those kinds of storms could happen again."

If such storms ever blew again, the scientists say hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage as well as the temporary loss of 800,000 barrels of oil production a day could occur.

"In order to prepare," Jol said, "we need to do more work and try to figure out what caused these huge events."

Following their presentation, Jol and the others were interviewed by Canada's national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, Science News and Science magazines.

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JW/JB

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Updated: December 13, 2004