Oceanside Beaches and Dunes - 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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Beach Elevation Profiles

Beach Elevation Profiles

Elevation profiles were surveyed one day prior to Hurricane Sandy, immediately after, and resurveyed through 2017.

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Research

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

Long-Term Change

Storm Impacts

Beach Recovery

Breach Evolution

Science Center Objects

Oceanfront research at Fire Island, New York, is primarily focused on understanding the long- and short-term behavior of the ocean-facing terrestrial barrier island system, including human influences. The USGS has had ongoing research activities on Fire Island since the late 1990s, providing science to help inform management decisions. Recent efforts include monitoring the response to and recovery from Hurricane Sandy, including the opening and evolution of Wilderness Breach.

For more than 15 years, the USGS has actively studied natural and human changes to the shoreline, beaches, and dunes at Fire Island. This research program has refined our understanding of the long (decades to centuries)- and short-term (storm events, seasons, years) geomorphological changes on the barrier island that influence natural, cultural, and recreational resources within Fire Island National Seashore, state and county parks, and communities along the island. Furthermore, these efforts have guided impact and recovery assessments that were undertaken in response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012. In addition to helping us understand how the island has evolved in the recent past, these observations serve as critical input to numerical and statistical models that predict future island behavior and guide coastal management and decision-making.

Long-Term Change

Long-term coastal change can occur over historical (10s to 100 years) and geological time scales (100s-1000s years). At Fire Island, the historical record of the position of the island goes back to the 1800s. Changes since then are quantified using historical maps, aerial photos, and modern coastal mapping techniques.

Storm Impacts

Storms are important drivers of coastal change; although they create hazards for coastal communities and infrastructure, they are also critical for moving sand landward from the oceanside of a barrier island to increase island elevation or width and build resiliency.

Beach Recovery

Since Hurricane Sandy, we have developed techniques to monitor short-term changes to the upper beach where both storm impacts and subsequent beach recovery are easily observed and measured.

Breach Evolution

Following the opening of a breach in the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness during Hurricane Sandy, we have actively monitored the breach through repeat bathymetric and topographic surveys. These surveys are being used to develop a numerical model and evaluate processes driving the morphological change of the breach.