Satellite Photo of Hurricane

Eric Keys

Head of the CLAS

Geographer Eric Keys is headed to Mexico to study the recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Dean.

Michelle Colburn
Eric Keys

Eric Keys, an assistant professor of geography, has received a grant from the National Science Foundation to study the impacts of Hurricane Dean on southern Mexico. He has assembled a team of UF faculty and graduate students, as well as people from Mexico, the University of Alabama and Mississippi State University, for rapid physical and social analysis of hurricane recovery efforts. They leave for Mexico the week of September 10th. What follows is a detailed project description from Dr. Keys.

Project Summary

Hurricane Dean has proven to be one of the most extreme natural events to hit southeastern Mexico. Estimates of damage from storm surge, flooding, and landfall reach have not yet been made but will stretch into the billions of dollars and unknown lives. Early reports suggest that 100% of this year's subsistence and commercial crops have been destroyed. Dean is the only hurricane to make landfall in this portion
of the Yucatan that maintained major hurricane intensity as it entered the Bay of Campeche. Dean brought winds in excess of 178 km/hr to a 130 km wide swath of land. Dean made landfall on August 21, 2007 in Chetumal, Quintana Roo, Mexico and traveled inland through the southeastern Yucatan Peninsula, laying to waste agricultural fields and housing in one of the most economically disadvantaged areas of that country. While headlines focus on impacts to well known tourist destinations such as Cancun and Campeche, these areas are relatively wealthy and should be able to respond quickly to hurricane related damage. In the interior, primarily in the Calakmul Municipality however, housing structures are not hurricane resistant, survival depends on field agriculture, and residents find income generation difficult in the best of years.

Not since hurricane Janet hit in 1955 has there been an opportunity like this to study the resilience of people and ecosystems to catastrophic natural disaster in southern Mexico (Klepeis 2004). We have the opportunity to accurately measure the impact of hurricanes on crop yields which carries implications for disaster planning, especially in frontier areas. We have access to remotely sensed data for the region from 1967 aerial photographs through Landsat MSS and TM imagery to the present that can show us the extent of landscape change from the storm. In terms of social science and ecological data a number of the PIs have collected data for over ten years. Longitudinal
data, some of it going back more than 30 years, allows this and future studies to understand the true impacts of natural disaster on rural areas in the developing world. This abundance of data rarely exists in the developing world, much less at the center of a major natural disaster.

This data collection is necessary shortly after the destruction wrought by hurricane Dean to accurately portray the immediate social and environmental impacts of hurricanes that can lead to longer term understanding of socio-ecological systems' resilience and vulnerability to rapid and gradual change.

This research proposal promises to lay the foundations for a larger examination of resilience and panarchy ideas. Through research connections we are able to compile ecological and social data that stretches back some 30 to 40 years, thereby building a baseline sense of southeastern Mexico prior to the arrival of Hurricane Dean. While
lamentable for the people of the region, Dean provides an ideal natural experiment in resilience as we trace the identity of the southeastern Mexico social ecological system as it responds to this extreme event.



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