Coastal System Change at Fire Island, New York

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy was a unique storm for Fire Island because the metrics we typically use to measure storm impacts didn’t capture the magnitude of the event. USGS developed new metrics and models to quantify storm impacts and subsequent recovery.

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Fire Island Story Map

Fire Island Story Map

Dynamic coasts like Fire Island change in response to wind, waves, tides, sediment supply, human-induced changes, and sea-level rise. Changes can be rapid in response to storms, or gradual, in periods of fair weather, seasons, and annual cycles.

Interactive Info

Research

Research on the various components of the Fire Island system is being conducted at multiple USGS Centers and across projects.

Open Ocean/Marine

Nearshore

Oceanside Beaches and Dunes

Back-barrier and Estuarine

Science Center Objects

Fire Island is a 50-km long barrier island along the south shore of Long Island, New York. The island is comprised of seventeen year-round communities; federal, state, and county parks; and supports distinct ecosystems alongside areas of economic and cultural value. In addition to providing resources to its residents, the barrier island also protects the heavily-populated mainland from storm waves. Sound scientific understanding of the interplay of natural processes and human activities is required to successfully manage coastal resources at Fire Island to achieve the optimum balance in benefits to public safety, the economy, and the environment. To this end, USGS coastal research utilizes an integrated approach to measure long- and short-term changes to the Fire Island barrier island system, including open ocean/marine, nearshore, barrier island, and estuarine environments. 

The USGS is engaged in a variety of research activities within the Fire Island coastal system and together these activities provide a comprehensive assessment of coastal system change and evolution at Fire Island. The activities include:

  1. mapping the seabed of the adjacent offshore areas to characterize geological contributions to coastal behavior;
  2. measuring and modeling waves, winds, and currents to understand the processes by which sediment is exchanged between marine and terrestrial coastal systems;
  3. establishing relationships between inner shelf geology, ocean processes, and island response;
  4. identifying linkages between coastal changes and natural and human-induced variations in sediment supply;
  5. measuring and modeling beach and dune changes resulting from long-term processes, storm impacts (including erosion, breaching) and post-storm recovery;
  6. quantifying the impact of geomorphic changes on circulation and water levels in Great South Bay; and 
  7. building and integrating predictive models of long-term shoreline change, geomorphic change, and habitat suitability to improve human access and ensure sufficient habitat for threatened species.

Past and ongoing USGS research uses a combination of direct and remotely-sensed observations and numerical and statistical modeling to measure and predict the evolution of the coastal system over long (e.g., geological and historical) and short (e.g., storms to decades) time periods, including the impact of Hurricane Sandy and subsequent recovery. To date, this research has resulted in identification of inner shelf and nearshore sand resources; development of models that predict coastal response to waves and currents, impacts of inlet dredging and island breaching on bay water levels, and breach evolution; assessments and forecasts of existing and future vulnerabilities to storms and sea-level rise; and the establishment of a detailed sediment budget from the inner shelf to the shoreline. Most research activities are conducted in partnership with the National Park Service (NPS), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and state and county agencies. Science and products from the sustained, integrated research effort at Fire Island are the basis for sound coastal management that provides protection to people and infrastructure, sustains tourism and recreation, and supports habitat resilience. 

Open Ocean/Marine

Geophysical mapping and research have demonstrated that the seabed on the inner continental shelf has a variety of shapes which are linked to long-term evolution of the barrier island. Regional-scale modeling forecasts how atmospheric forcing and oceanographic circulation case sand, gravel, and other materials to be transported by tides, winds, waves, fresh water fluxes, and density variations.

Nearshore

The nearshore is the link between the inner shelf and Fire Island itself. Mapping sediment availability in the nearshore may help us understand beach recovery after storms and identify natural sources of sediment that contribute to long-term island resilience.

Oceanside Beaches and Dunes

Fire Island is a dynamic barrier island that changes in response to wind, waves, tides, sediment supply, human intervention, and sea level rise. Most of the terrestrial research focuses on historical, storm impact, and recovery time scales.

Back-Barrier and Estuarine

Regional-scale modeling forecasts how atmospheric forcing and oceanographic circulation influence estuarine circulation and water levels, sediment transport, and wetland change.