Tripod-palooza—USGS Collaborates with Federal, State, and Academic Partners to Support Coastal Resiliency in the Wider Chesapeake Bay Area

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In the Chesapeake Bay area, the Virginia and West Virginia Water Science Center is partnering with over a dozen organizations in a pilot project this fall, resulting in the establishment of a baseline reference for an ongoing effort in monitoring coastal subsidence.  

Sea-level change as measured by long-term tide stations is a combination of eustatic sea-level rise—how the level of the world’s oceans is slowly rising as a result of thermal expansion and melting polar ice caps—and local vertical land motion (VLM). This land motion can be the result of both global-scale (e.g., Glacial Isostatic Adjustment) and local-scale processes (e.g., subsurface fluid withdrawals). Where coastlines are stable or subsiding, sea levels appear to be rising. Conversely, where land uplift is greater than eustatic sea-level rise, like in Canada and Alaska, sea levels appear to be falling. VLM is difficult to map and model as local, comparatively shallow processes like surface compaction and groundwater pumping can dominate the vertical signal.

Tripod-Palooza

Credit: Russ Lotspeich, USGS VA-WV Water Science Center

Sea levels along much of the Mid-Atlantic coast are rising faster than the global average. The prevalence of expansive, low-lying coastal areas with very dense and continually increasing populations that mostly rely on groundwater further exacerbate vulnerability to coastal flooding. Although there is little coastal managers can do to mitigate sea-level rise itself, managers may be able to slow or even reverse subsidence, the gradual lowering of the land surface, by slowing groundwater withdrawals or by injecting water back into the aquifers. These options are very expensive, so coastal communities need to have highly accurate, trusted data on the relative contributions of land motion to local sea-level rise. Unfortunately, VLM at local scales represents an important national data gap. This fact was recently highlighted by the National Society of Professional Surveyors, which is exploring the feasibility of Congressional action to support a program of national scope. 

By leveraging assets and working together, many federal, state, and academic institutions are working towards providing a low-cost solution to filling this important data gap for the Nation’s coastal managers. In the Chesapeake Bay area, the Virginia and West Virginia Water Science Center is partnering with over a dozen organizations in a pilot project this fall, resulting in the establishment of a baseline reference for an ongoing effort in monitoring coastal subsidence.  

The project will kick off with a “tripod-palooza” to be held September 11-12, at the National Geodetic Survey’s Testing and Training Center in Woodford, Virginia. Participants will be testing GPS equipment and piloting the procedures to be used during the subsequent survey. Between October 6 and 20, the partners will fan out over the region and observe some 40 local survey control points (“benchmarks”) simultaneously using GPS, from Hampton Roads to the southern shores of the Delaware Bay; from Assateague Island to the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

The Virginia and West Virginia Water Science Center is leading the collaborative study through bi-weekly calls and interagency coordination to improve the resolution of field-measured land subsidence. The “tripod-palooza” will provide an opportunity for the Center to meet face to face and discuss science outcomes with researchers from all agencies involved.  In addition, the Center will verify equipment data accuracy and establish consistent standard operating procedures for field personnel.  

Entry of the National Ocean Service and USGS

Credit: Russ Lotspeich, USGS VA-WV Water Science Center

The two-week survey will not only enable high accuracy measurements on a “backbone” of subsidence marks but will also enable additional partners to contribute to the survey and  expand the footprint of the study area. This year’s data will represent the baseline measurement. In subsequent years, the collaborative survey will build a timeline of data points, through which scientists hope a clear subsidence signal can be deciphered. The data from the project will be made public to maximize potential benefits to the broader research and management communities. Our partners in this effort include NOAA, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Smithsonian Institution, Virginia Tech, Hampton University, Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, Virginia State University, University of Maryland, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences, University of Delaware, the Maryland Geological Survey, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Kurt McCoy
Kurt McCoy is a Supervisory Hydrologist in the Virginia and West Virginia Water Science Center and has worked with the USGS for 17 years.  His group focuses on facilitating and communicating science to inform coastal communities facing flooding risks from sea-level rise and assisting rural communities with water resource availability needs. 

 

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