Hurricane Sandy Response - Barrier Island and Estuarine Wetland Physical Change Assessment

Science Center Objects

This project integrated a wetland assessment with existing coastal-change hazard assessments for the adjacent dunes and beaches of Assateague Island, Maryland, to create a more comprehensive coastal vulnerability assessment. 

The Nation's coast is fringed by beaches, dunes, barrier islands, wetlands, and bluffs. These natural coastal barriers provide critical benefits and services, and can mitigate the impact of storms, erosion, and sea-level rise on coastal communities. In late October 2012, waves and storm surge resulting from Hurricane Sandy affected the U.S. coastline from North Carolina to New York and Massachusetts, including Assateague Island, Maryland, and the Delmarva coastal system. The storm impacts included changes in topography, coastal morphology and geology, hydrology, environmental quality, and ecosystems (Buxton and others).

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, lidar surveys from North Carolina to New York documented storm impacts to coastal barriers, providing a baseline to assess vulnerability of the reconfigured coast. In addition to that, a thorough investigation of the topography and geology of the affected coastal systems has provided a complete picture of the post-storm barrier landscape that allows us to understand the potential vulnerability to future storms and informs decisions on recovery and rebuilding.

The Barrier Island Wetlands Physical Change project conducted research tasks in 2014-2015 that included the following:

  • Identified and measured estuarine shoreline changes resulting from Hurricane Sandy along Assateague Island using remotely sensed data;
  • Sampled and analyzed sediment cores to understand long-term geologic processes and ground-truth measurements from the remote sensing analysis;
  • Assessed the likelihood of wetland change resulting from future storm events and linked this assessment to the beaches and dunes vulnerability assessments that have already been developed.

This study provides baseline scientific information regarding the natural resiliency of the coastal system that will continue to inform Federal and other resource managers as they make decisions regarding restoration and resource management projects. In addition, project results are providing coastal planners and managers with similar information for addressing infrastructure concerns along developed coastlines.

Burial of wetlands by overwash deposits along the Virginia coastline.

Burial of wetlands by overwash deposits along the Virginia coastline. (Public domain.)