Coastal resilienceHelping shape safer coastal communities

Published 12 December 2016

Higher dunes can help protect communities from damaging waves and surge; they can also impede natural coastal processes. Scientists need better to understand how dunes’ effectiveness in protecting developed areas will be affected by long-term coastal change, or by extreme events such as hurricanes. Coastal zone research projects will fill in some of those knowledge gaps, heling managers protect developed areas’ beach dunes, which are vital to resilient communities, ecosystems, and economies.

Coastal zone research projects will help managers protect developed areas’ beach dunes, which are vital to resilient communities, ecosystems, and economies.

University of Pennsylvania scientists will build a wind tunnel to test the sand-capturing capability of five types of dune vegetation. Oregon State University’s model of coastal dune evolution will be expanded to include management options such as vegetation planting, beach nourishment, and beach scraping. The University of Alabama will investigate the vulnerability of dunes to multiple storms. These are among the new research projects undertaken in a collaboration by coastal scientists in the federal government and academia. The goal is to improve management of coastal dunes, which are vital to maintaining the resilience of coastal communities, ecosystems, and economies.

USGS says that the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association are working together to advance coastal dune science and management through workshops and research investments. The ASBPA ledthe first Nearshore Collaboration Workshop in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina 29 November-1 December. The meeting brought together coastal experts from USGS, the USACE, National Park Service, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Office of Naval Research, NOAA, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of New Hampshire, and other academic institutions. The meeting was intended to become an annual event where federal and non-federal coastal scientists gather to develop opportunities for collaborative research projects in the coastal zone.  

The USGS, USACE, and ASBPA have funded projects at Oregon State University, University of North Carolina, University of Pennsylvania, North Carolina State University, Texas A&M, and University of Alabama. These projects, which total about $250,000, are aimed at improving dune management in developed coastal communities.

“High, continuous dunes are economically and ecologically sensible elements of a larger shore protection program,” said” Nicole Elko, ASBPA’s Vice President of Science and Technology. “Hurricane Matthew’s recent dune erosion (see USGS before and after images) highlights the need for a consistent national program to evaluate dune management strategies so that the nation is ready for future storms and sea-level rise.”

The academic studies support and build upon existing USACE and USGS dune research.  

“Coastal managers must balance the costs and benefits of dunes as one important component of healthy and resilient coasts,” said John Haines, USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program Coordinator. “To help guide their decision making, the USGS has been studying how sand dunes respond and migrate during storms and as a consequence of sea-level rise.”

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