Coastal Ecosystem Impacts

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) manages public lands affected by Hurricane Sandy, including approximately 30 National Wildlife Refuges and 6 National Parks and National Seashores along the coast of the northeastern United States that provide critical habitat for migratory waterfowl and threatened or endangered species. These coastal barriers protect wetlands and coastal communities and provide recreational opportunities for millions of visitors, including those from nearby metropolitan areas from Boston to Washington, D.C.

The USGS provides decision makers with the science needed to support the assessment, recovery, and resilience of the Nation’s natural resources. Managers of DOI lands have trust responsibilities under the Federal Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as well as additional cooperative responsibilities with State and local authorities for the protection of native, commercial, and recreationally harvested fish and wildlife species. Studies conducted by the USGS and its partners provide essential baseline data and long-term support for coastal-zone planning, conservation planning, resource management, hazard reduction, and risk mitigation in the wake of past and future natural disasters.View Fact Sheet


Assessing storm impacts on wetland integrity and stability to support recovery decisions:— USGS expertise in wetland ecology and remotely sensed imagery is being applied to document changes to wetland forests and marshes caused by Hurricane Sandy. Radar, lidar, Landsat (satellite), and air-photo imagery are being interpreted to determine impacts to wetland vegetation from surge inundation, high winds, and shoreline changes. Fine-scale elevation changes are being determined by using data from the Surface Elevation Table (SET) network currently (2014) maintained by the USGS and partners. Marsh sediment cores are also being collected and analyzed to determine fine-scale impacts to coastal wetlands.

Integrating assessments of storm-induced physical changes across coastal ecosystems:— The Barrier Island and Estuarine Wetland Physical Change Assessment project is integrating a wetland assessment with existing coastal-change hazard assessments for the adjacent dunes and beaches, and will focus, initially, on Assateague Island, Maryland, to create a more comprehensive look at coastal ecosystem vulnerability.

Assessing storm impact on waterfowl and migratory birds to support conservation:— The USGS is documenting the impacts of Hurricane Sandy on coastal birds by establishing sites on public lands to study declining populations of secretive marsh and shore birds; collecting radar and field data on pre- and post-storm migratory bird flight patterns; and assessing the potential for changes to migratory stop-over habitats, resident habitats, food sources, reproductive capacities, and the timing of life-cycle events.

Documenting and evaluating coast-wide storm impacts on coastal forests:—The USGS is investigating the complex relations linking forest type, structure, and size thresholds to coastal buffering capacity. This information is being used to classify coastal forest types and storm impacts on the basis of forest condition, mortality, species composition, woody debris and wrack deposits, high-water surveys of flooding extent, and residual soil salinity correlated with wind speed and surge penetration. Maps are being prepared that highlight the forest types and conditions affected by tides and storm surges for use in predicting forest recovery, evaluating alternatives for forest restoration, and assessing their potential for success.

Developing data-driven models for ecological assessments.— The USGS is using data from multiple monitoring networks to develop models of storm impacts on vegetation and coastal morphology, and to forecast effects of landscape alterations and response processes on the health of and trends in wetlands, submerged habitats, and ecosystem services. Biological, environmental, and physical data will be synthesized to expand the capabilities of existing numerical models that evaluate impacts of Hurricane Sandy and potential future events as well as longer term changes on habitats and wildlife. The USGS is continuing to modify and improve Web-based tools to deliver ecological models, data standards, visualization and analysis tools, and decision support tools to aid scientific research and resource management in the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy as well as increase understanding to ensure improved preparation for future events.

Data and Tools

Arial photograph of the Black mangrove-salt marsh community in coastal Louisiana. Brown areas are dead marsh, and green vegetation is healthy black mangrove.

Joint Ecosystem Modeling

A collaborative approach to modeling and standards.

Rainfall data based on Next Generation Radar (NEXRAD) data from the U.S. National Weather Service provides complete spatial coverage of rainfall amounts for the State of Florida.


Radar technologies are used to look at bird migration and habitat areas as well as how bird populations are affected by extreme weather events.

A scientist setting up the portable mechanical liveling device for measuring relative sediment elevation changes.

Surface Elevation Table (SET) Network

SET Network is a mechanical leveling device for measuring relative sediment elevation changes in wetlands and marshes. Is often paired with marker horizon to explain processes behind elevation increases or decreases (i.e. sedimentation, shallow subsidence, etc.)


Coastal Ecosystem Impacts Team Lead

Matthew Andersen