Sediment Transport in Coastal Environments

Science Center Objects

Our research goals are to provide the scientific information, knowledge, and tools required to ensure that decisions about land and resource use, management practices, and future development in the coastal zone and adjacent watersheds can be evaluated with a complete understanding of the probable effects on coastal ecosystems and communities, and a full assessment of their vulnerability to natural and human-driven changes.

Coastal resource managers face a wide range of problems related to sediment transport. Sediment management or questions related to sediment transport are involved in dredging operations, preventing or planning for coastal erosion, evaluation of the impacts of anthropogenic alterations on coastal ecosystems, restoration of coastal habitats, and planning for climate change. To address these questions, coastal managers typically require both site-specific information about sediment transport processes, and predictive models of the outcome of potential management actions. 

Understanding of sediment transport processes and the ability to model sediment transport have advanced significantly in recent decades, but important limitations remain. It is still a common practice to report results of sediment transport modeling with limited or no calibration, due to lack of suitable data for calibration. The relative importance of factors governing sediment transport varies between coastal environments due to differences in both sediment properties and physical forcing. The development of robust models of sediment transport applicable to all aquatic environments, and the movement of sediment between them, requires data from a range of settings for testing. 

Project Objectives

  1. to utilize USGS Coastal and Marine Hazards and Resources Program expertise to investigate problems in coastal sediment transport that are relevant to sediment management issues, including protection of coastal ecosystems, reducing the risk of natural hazards, and adapting to or predicting effects of climate change
  2. to utilize the results obtained in these studies to improve understanding of sediment transport processes, and incorporate this improved understanding in predictive models
  3. to conduct research and advise resource managers on the impacts of human activities and the effectiveness of restoration measures on river, estuarine, and marine habitats in collaboration with federal, state, and local agencies, and academic partners.

Current Research Topics

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Water rushes through a break in the natural sand levee on a beach, formed during low river flow and breached during high flow.

Natural sand levee breach, San Gregorio Beach, California, Oct. 25th, 2010