Five intense (category 3 or greater) hurricanes occurring in 1635, 1638, 18
15, 1869, and 1938 have made landfall on the New England coast since Europe
an settlement. Historical records indicate that four of these hurricanes (1
635, 1638, 1815, and 1938) and hurricane Carol, a strong category 2 storm i
n 1954, produced significant storm surges (>3 m) in southern Rhode Island.
Storm surges of this magnitude can overtop barrier islands, removing sedime
nts from the beach and nearshore environment and depositing overwash fans a
cross back-barrier marshes, lakes, and lagoons. In a regime of rising sea l
evel, accumulation of marsh, lake, or lagoon sediments on top of overwash d
eposits will preserve a record of overwash deposition.
We examined the record of overwash deposition at Succotash salt marsh in Ea
st Matunuck, Rhode Island, and tested the correlation with historical recor
ds of intense storms. Aerial photographs taken after hurricanes in 1954 and
1938 show overwash fans deposited at the site. Analysis of 14 sediment cor
es from the back-barrier marsh confirmed the presence of these fans and rev
ealed that 4 additional large-scale overwash fans were deposited within the
The four overwash fans deposited since the early seventeenth century at Suc
cotash Marsh matches the historical record of significant hurricane-induced
storm surge. These fans were most likely deposited by hurricanes in 1954,
1938, 1815, and either 1638 or 1635, Radiocarbon dating of two prehistoric
overwash fans indicated that these were deposited between A,D, 1295-1407 an
d 1404-1446 and probably represent intense hurricane strikes. In the past 7
00 yr, at least 7 intense hurricanes struck the southern Rhode Island coast
and produced a storm surge that overtopped the barrier at Succotash Marsh.