Dr. Jeff Donnelly, the featured speaker at the OPET 2017 Annual Meeting. His talk titled “Chasing Ancient Hurricanes in Oyster Pond and Beyond” revealed how he uses sediment cores from the bottom of Oyster Pond and elsewhere to study the long term record of hurricanes. He uses pollen, lead and radioactive tracers to date storm events. Maize pollen in Oyster Pond’s cores shows that Native Americans were growing corn on the shores of the pond by the late 1400s. Around 1665 rye pollen starting appearing in the cores, an indication that Europeans started farming in the area. He also presented a lot of information about Oyster Pond, including the surprise that a section of the pond is a submerged white cedar swamp.
Another surprise was the high amount of sand inputs during the 18th century. It was not due to a large number of storms, only two hurricanes were documented during this time, but rather to a direct outlet to Vineyard Sound that was created by a circa 1675 storm. The outlet allowed sand to be easily carried into the pond. This parallels with the history of Oyster Pond in Falmouth’s Town Meeting. Starting in 1765, the Town hired someone to keep the outlet open and therefore the salinity high enough to support oysters. For decades the Town struggled with this effort, battling storms that continually filled the outlet. (We face the same problem today with Trunk River!) It ultimately proved to be too difficult in the era of only manual labor and abandoned the effort in the early 1800s.