AAJ | Climate Change


The Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA) is the primary airport for visiting friends and relatives, business travel travellers and for the movement of air cargo. NMIA is considered a major economic catalyst, contributing approximately 5.6% of Jamaica’s GDP. In 2019, the airport  handled 1.7 Million Passenger movements and over 70 percent (17 million kgs) of the Island’s airfreight. Overall, the NMIA is both nationally important as it comprises over 70 companies and government agencies, with over 3,500 persons directly employed at the airport.

General bathymetry in the area immediately offshore south of the Palisadoes.

The Norman Manley International Airport is located on the widest section of the Palisadoes, approximately halfway from the eastern end at Harbour View, going westwards towards Port Royal.  The thin, eastern section of the Palisadoes has been breached by hurricane forces several times in the historical past, and researchers have identified the presence of the Yallahs Basin, a dramatic geomorphological feature of the south-eastern area of the island shelf, as one very significant factor that causes the eastern section of the Palisadoes to be especially vulnerable to hurricane damage. This vulnerability is caused by the deep waters of the Yallahs Basin which extends very close to this section of the coastline, allowing the most powerful deep-water waves to travel very close to the shore before breaking. Wave forces are in their most powerful and destructive phase when they break and overtop against an impacted structure therefore the most destructive power is delivered  when Atlantic hurricane waves approach Jamaica from the southeast, and are able to reach close to the eastern end of the Palisadoes. It is then that the western section is protected by the Port Royal Cays, as the waves have to break much farther away from  the shoreline, upon meeting the shelf wall.

Dispositional setting of the Yallahs Fan Delta with respect to the Yallahs Basin. (Burke 1967)

The Yallahs Basin (Source: Kevin Burke)

The distance from the NMIA shoreline to the edge of the island shelf is approximately 3 kilometres therefore the most destructive impacts of powerful deep-water waves are delivered relatively far away from the shoreline. Port Royal is relatively well protected from the most powerful wave impacts, as it is situated on top of the shelf, shielded by the many Port Royal Cays. Apart from wind damage, the most serious hurricane impact to the western half of the Palisadoes is usually due to storm surge.


The shoreline adjacent to the Norman Manley International Airport is constantly under environmental pressures from natural hazards and climate change related events such as hurricanes, storm surges, and sea level rise. Over the past decades, the direct impact of such hazards has resulted in grave environmental degradation and socioeconomic disturbances at NMIA. Most notably, in 2004, following the passage of Hurricane Ivan, 310 meters of the shoreline was deemed to be in a critical state. Hurricane Ivan, the most powerful hurricane in terms of trajectory and intensity to have impacted the Palisades in modern times, only caused relatively light disruption of the shoreline at the eastern end of NMIA runway. A section of beach berm material was eroded and deposited onto the Norman Manley Highway, blocking vehicular access to Port Royal. However, the blockage was completely cleared the day after passage of the hurricane.  No damage was done to the concrete retaining wall shielding the end of the runway. The storm caused total destruction of the sand dunes and inundation of the main roadway which led to the complete shutdown of the Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA). The passage of Hurricane Dean in 2007 exacerbated the situation, placing approximately 2.65km of the shoreline in a critical state which forced adaptation measures such as the revetment to minimize vulnerability. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused minimal damage to the Airport. The category one (1) hurricane generated a surge of less than two (2 feet) and displaced sand on the main roads which resulted in a two (2) day closure of the airport.

Hurricane Ivan Track, September 10, 2004.

Palisadoes after Hurricane Ivan

Photo showing damage to coastline at eastern end of NMIA runway (16 Sept. 2004)