Coastal, benthic communities, such as coral reefs, are at particular risk due to poor water quality caused by hurricanes. In addition to the physical impacts from wave action and storm surge, hurricanes bring significant rainfall resulting in increased runoff from land. Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused record or near-record floods at many locations across Puerto Rico and resulted in major impacts on coastal and benthic ecosystems from heavy rainfall and river discharge. In this study, we use imagery from the moderate resolution Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) satellite to quantify the impacts of hurricanes Irma and Maria, which struck Puerto Rico during September 2017, on the water quality of the coastal waters of Puerto Rico using the chlorophyll-a
) and the diffuse attenuation coefficient at 490 nm (Kd
490) products. The objectives include: (1) quantify the water quality and light attenuation after the hurricanes; (2) compare this event to the climatology of these parameters, and 3) evaluate long-term exposure and exceedances of various coastal areas to low levels of turbidity. The Chl-a
inner shelf values increased in 2017 during the months of June (8% above baseline), July (17%), August (5%), September (8%), October (19%), and November (28%) when compared to 2012–2016 baseline data. The values for Chl-a
concentration reached and exceeded 0.45 µg/L by August 2017 and persisted above that value until December 2017. The Kd
490 inner shelf values for 2017 increased (in percent) for the months of June (4% above baseline), July (9%), August (10%), September (5%), October (12%), and November (7%) when compared to 2012–2016 baseline data. The values of Kd
490 in August, September, and December 2017 were the highest seen during 2012–2017. Even with the limitations of spatial resolution and loss of data to cloud cover, the 6-year imagery time-series analysis can provide a useful evaluation of the effects of these two hurricanes on the coastal water quality in Puerto Rico, and quantify the exposure of benthic habitats to higher nutrient and turbidity levels.
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