The Devastation by Cyclone Cleopatra


In mid-November 2013, Cyclone Cleopatra tore through the Italian island Sardinia, exacting long lasting damage in a matter of hours. The intense extratropical cyclone poured almost 18 inches of rain in an hour and a half and nearly destroyed this beloved western Mediterranean tourist destination. When rivers broke their banks it caused flash floods that swept away cars, washed bridges out and took the lives of at least 18 people.  

          A cyclone, by definition, is a system of winds that rotate around a low pressure area. They belong to a low pressure storm family that are categorized as cyclones, typhoons or hurricanes depending on geographical region. There are a variety of cyclone magnitudes ranging from mild to severe, with the largest of the low pressure systems being cold core and, as in this circumstance, extratropical. These mid-latitude cyclones can occur any time and are present in both hemispheres, and during the winter and when severe they are generally called “nor’easters.” Extratropical cyclones form as waves along weather fronts, and favor warm sea surface temperatures and atmospheric instability. Cyclone Cleopatra developed from northern cold air entering the Mediterranean and interacting with humid warm air, and because of increased sea surface temperatures due to climate change, it is highly possible that global warming strengthened this system since the difference between air and water temperature would be larger than before.           

           There was no choice by Italian officials other than to declare a state of emergency for this region within 24 hours of Cyclone Cleopatra’s commencement. It has been estimated that over 2,000 people had been affected by this natural disaster and £17 million for emergency relief has been allocated by the Italian government. The northeastern port city Olbia was among the most severely hit, and areas had been submerged in almost 10 feet of water-ruining roads and destroying homes.  For comparison, the amount of water that fell in 90 minutes is comparable to the rainfall in the city of Milan over 6 months. A local mayor deemed the storm “apocalyptic,” and experts have stated that this locale has not experienced a storm of this calibre in centuries. Other towns were hit by heavy rains as well coupled with gale force winds, and the heavy rains continued to threaten other parts of Italy, including Rome and Venice, while moving east days later.

          The geography of Sardinia has been devastated by Cyclone Cleopatra with its heavy rainfall and winds up to 58 mile per hour. Crops were ripped up and mud was spread across the landscape, which will affect agriculture production indefinitely in the region. Sardinia’s road and bridge infrastructure have been broken and severely damaged. This will not only impede access for relief efforts in the area but also yield the high priority task of rebuilding and repairing immediately. Italy has been in a fiscal recession for over two years, so these responsibilities may have unforeseen consequence by taking a higher toll on the unstable government and complicating restoration plans.

          There are bureaucratic complications to this tragedy as well. Italy has experienced more than two years of recession so may not be well prepared to deal with this unexpected crisis financially. An alert system was in effect but the efficiency of it is questionable since evacuation orders had been ignored and it has been said that the weather predictions were understated. Though this event was due to a variety of factors, the risk was said to have been heightened by faulty construction of buildings, especially in coastal areas, and need for better emergency planning.

          Needless to say that Cyclone Cleopatra has left a long road of healing and repair for the people of Sardinia. With climate change being very real, and the anthropogenic contributions to it, the potential of this or storms like this occurring again seems to be likely. Hopefully better, advanced preparations for these devastating natural disasters will minimize future detrimental effects and mortalities.  

Thank You to OCEAN Researcher Brigid McKenna

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Transdermal Chemicals in Your Body: Triclosan

Hand sanitizers and cosmetics as well as children's toys may contain triclosan. Exposure to this transdermal chemical allows it to enter the body through the skin. The same property of triclosan that interferes with bacterial functions may also impact human muscle function. While this is still being researched, this may be a chemical that bears tracking.

Recent studies have caused the FDA to think twice about the pervasive use of a common household bactericide, triclosan (Triclosan, 2012). Triclosan, which inhibits bacterial growth by specifically inhibiting an enzyme required for bacterial lipid biosynthesis (Levy, 1999), can be found in a wide variety of products from childrens’ toys to toothpastes and cosmetics (Triclosan, 2012). While one study has shown that triclosan can inhibit the growth of the parasite which causes malaria (Mcleod, 2001) and another has shown that it is effective in Colgate Total toothpaste in preventing gingivitis (Triclosan, 2012), there is no evidence which promises added health benefits in other products containing the chemical (Triclosan, 2012). Recent findings suggest that the chemical may be more harmful than beneficial. A study published in 2000 found that triclosan easily enters the bloodstream through dermal absorption (Howes et al, 2000). A study conducted in Sweden found the chemical in 3 out of 5 human breast milk samples as well as in fish exposed to wastewater (Adolfsson-Erici, 2002). Most recently, a team of researchers from the University of California, Davis has found that triclosan impairs the functioning of striated muscle cells in humans and whole muscles in mice and minnows (Cherednichenko, 2012). In human heart and skeletal muscle cells, the researchers found that contraction by electrical stimulation failed when the cells were in the presence of triclosan. In mice exposed to the chemical, a reduction in heart muscle function and grip strength was seen, while exposed minnows swam less effectively. The chemical appears to function by impairment of the calcium dynamics required for communication between two proteins required for muscle contraction (Stromberg, 2012). In light of these and other findings indicating potential negative health impacts, the FDA is “reviewing all of the available evidence on this ingredient’s safety in consumer products” (Triclosan, 2012).

Thank you to OCEAN researcher Lauren Bamford 03/09/2013

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Works Cited

 Adolfsson-Erici, Margaretha. “Triclosan, a commonly used bactericide found in human milk and in the aquatic environment in Sweden.” Chemosphere 46 (2002): 1485-1489. Web. 9 March 2013.

Cherednichenko, Gennady. “Triclosan impairs excitation–contraction coupling and Ca2+dynamics in striated muscle.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America August (2012). Web. 9 March 2013.

Howes, D., Moss, T., and Williams, FM. “Percutaneous penetration and dermal metabolism of triclosan (2,4, 4'-trichloro-2'-hydroxydiphenyl ether).” Food and Chemical Toxicology April (2000). Web. 9 March 2013.

Levy, Colin W. “Molecular Basis of Triclosan Activity.” Nature 398 (1999): 383-384. Web. 9 March 2013.

Mcleod, R. “Triclosan inhibits the growth of Plasmodium falciparum and Toxoplasma gondii by inhibition of apicomplexan Fab I.” International Journal for Parasitology 31 (2) (2001): 109-113. Web. 9 March 2013.

Stromberg, Joseph. “Triclosan, A Chemical Used in Antibacterial Soaps, is Found to Impair Muscle Function.” Surprising Science. Smithsonian Mag., 13 August, 2012. Web. 9 March 2013.

“Triclosan: What Consumers Should Know.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Updated 29 August 2012. Web. 9 March 2013.

Native Coastal Plants and Hurricanes

SALT SPRAY ZONE PLANTS You are welcome to download your own copy of this new publication, by clicking on the link below. When the right forward quadrant of Hurricane Irene hit Cape Cod, we experienced an empirical vent of full wind but with no rain. This was an opportunity to assess salt impacts and survivability of native vegetation. We did a survey of direct and indirect impact sites and resurveyed the following spring. 6 pages of color photographs.

Download "Salt Spray Zone Plants"


Coastal salt spray events are unwelcome but may play critical roles in selecting sustainable coastal vegetation. Changing storm tracks will create new liabilities for overly diversified coastal habitats. This publication documents Hurricane salt spray impacts on native coastal vegetation.

Medium Exposure site was located 800 + ft inland from the surf line. Onshore salt spray had to cross small buildings, a 2 lane road, low vegetationand a 4 lane road, with little change in elevation. The area consisted of 6-12 ft, established native and other vegetation.

High Exposure was located 10-60 ft from the surf line. The area consisted of recently planted and established, 1 ft -5 ft high native vegetation. Onshore salt spray, had to cross a 7 foot high coastal bank to impact the vegetation on a level grade.

Hurricane Irene, Satellite Image

Hurricane Irene, Satellite Image

The HurricaneIn late August, 2011, Hurricane Irene, with a 500 mile diameter Tropical Storm Force wind field, passed west of Cape Cod. The low precipitation, right hand semi-circle impacted Cape Cod from the Southwest50+ mph winds bridged tidal cycles for 15 hours. Prolonged wind, coated leaves and stems of exposed coastal vegetation with salt.

Unmitigated by precipitation, this became an empirical, “worst case scenario” for exposed vegetation, and an opportunity to study salt stress.

 Observations: Non-coastal natives were quickly dispatched by even the medium, albeit lengthy, exposure to salt spray. Established, native coastal plants, with the exception of Beach Plum, regained seasonal performance.  Directly following the storm event, recent plantings of Rugosa Roses and Seaside Goldenrod presented the appearance of100% salt kill. 2 weeks later, they were sprouting new leaves. 3 weeks after exposure, previously established Seaside Goldenrod showed flower heads (See cover photo on page 1), followed by blooms on a few, previously established Rugosas. Existing and planted American Beach Grass had minimal impacts.

Toxic Plants on Cape Cod

Reaction caused by Exposure to Toxic Plant

Reaction caused by Exposure to Toxic Plant

Toxic plant oils contain chemical markers (urushiol) which bond to cell membrane proteins, re-identifying our cells as targets for our own immune system. This can quickly become a significant health risk. This booklet identifies five toxic plants and explains our body’s mysterious response to their irritating properties. We recommend reading this booklet to prevent unpleasant experiences with Cape Cod vegetation.  

Safe Harbor has made this well researched booklet public domain, please click on the link below for your free copy.

Download "Toxic Plant Booklet"