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Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center have installed a web cam overlooking Sandwich Town Neck Beach in Sandwich, Massachusetts.

Editor's Note, Jan. 27, 2016:

The beach cam recorded the entire nourishment project, which was completed on January 21, two days before the January 2016 blizzard. As the storm approached, the USGS field team installed pressure sensors on a rock groin and in the tidal creek, mapped the beach, and installed instruments in the overwash channel. Peter Traykovski, a colleague from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), flew a UAS (unmanned aerial system) over the beach. The images, along with ground control points placed by the USGS team, are being used to make a detailed and precise three-dimensional map of the beach. 

The storm was a classic Nor'Easter, dumping 20–30 centimeters of snow on Cape Cod and generating relatively large waves and storm surge on Sandwich Town Neck Beach. A significant portion of the newly constructed berm was eroded, leaving a scarp as high as 2 meters. On Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, under blue skies, the USGS team once again surveyed the beach and Traykovski repeated the UAS image collection. The instruments were recovered and include information on waves, water levels, and overwash conditions. The combination of luck and rapid response has provided a nice set of data for evaluation models of beach erosion.

A smiling man stands near a house with a camera mounted on it, up near the roofline.
Chris Sherwood poses below the Sandwich beach camera. The white box contains a small uninterrupted power supply.

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center have installed a web cam overlooking Sandwich Town Neck Beach in Sandwich, Massachusetts. The beach cam data will be used to monitor natural changes in Sandwich beach that will follow a beach nourishment program conducted in January.

Sandwich Town Neck Beach has experienced long-term erosion, in part because the sand supply has been restricted by the jetties at the eastern entrance to Cape Cod Canal, just a mile to the west of the beach. In 2015, winter storm Juno caused severe erosion, cutting the dune bluff back by 8 meters and washing sand over the beach and into a back-barrier tidal creek. The town has since dredged the tidal creek and built an artificial dune across the largest overwash channel, but the town beach and the private properties to either side remain at risk.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and their contractor, Great Lake Dredge and Dock Co., conducted a beach replenishment program beginning on January 4, 2016, and ending on January 22, 2016. Sand was pumped onto the beach from a hopper dredge though a pipe. The sand was dredged from several shallow spots in the Cape Cod Canal as part of routine maintenance. The project provided about 130,000 cubic yards of sand, which was used to widen the beach and build out the dunes.

The beach cam was installed on December 22, 2015, on a private home adjacent to the town-owned beach. The camera system, which includes a 14 megapixel Nikon camera, low-power computer, heater, power supply, and cell phone for data transfer, all housed in weatherproof enclosures, is rented from Erdman Video Systems, Inc. The computer controls the camera, stores the images, and uploads them via the cell phone to the Erdman data servers, where they are then posted on the website. The USGS supplied the mounting location and some household 110 V AC power. Mike Wood, a local electrician from Standish Fire & Security, Inc., installed the system.

A man stands on a beach holding a tall pole that is taller than him.
USGS technician Barry Irwin uses a GPS rover system to locate one of the targets used to calibrate the field of view for the beach cam. Three other larger targets are visible in the background.

Right now, the camera system records high-resolution images every 15 minutes, and five minutes of video, from which is saved the time-average and the variance. The variance highlights regions where waves are breaking, and sometimes shows offshore bars. The camera will also be used collect a series of frames taken as fast as possible to measure wave run-up.

The beach cam data will contribute to three USGS projects:

  • Barrier Island Evolution project, which combines assessment of storm impacts and characterization of coastal geologic framework with modeling of beach morphology in order to predict barrier-island behavior over time scales of 1 to 5 years;
  • Coastal Model Applications and Measurements project, which supports the development and application of open-source coastal models;
  • National Assessment of Storm-Induced Coastal Change Hazards project, which focuses on understanding the magnitude and variability of extreme storm impacts on sandy beaches in order to improve real-time and scenario-based predictions of coastal change.


View looks onto a beach with a fence, and the water is calm with tugs and barges floating in it.
A view from the beach cam on Christmas Day 2015 shows tugs and barges working to install the sand delivery pipe.
View looking along a beach with a fence and gentle water in background, and various spots on the photo are marked.
Image from the beach cam with targets used to calibrate the images, allowing researchers to use pixel coordinates in the images to determine real-world locations.
Aerial image of a beach.
Composite aerial view of Sandwich Town Neck Beach. The imagery was obtained from an unmanned aerial system (UAS) flown by Peter Traykovski in February, 2015, a few days after winter storm Juno. The background topography is from USGS and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lidar data, with missing-data areas shown in white.

The long-term goal of the beach monitoring effort is to improve the ability to forecast changes to beaches, dunes, and back-barrier landscapes. In the short-term, researchers will use the images to measure wave run-up for comparison with model forecasts and beach volumes for use in validating geomorphic change models. A team of USGS technicians, including Barry Irwin, Jon Borden, Dann Blackwood, and Sandy Brosnahan, and post-doctorate researcher Shawn Harrison, have been surveying the beach to establish baseline conditions and to set targets for image rectification (correcting for distortions in the camera lens and the geometry of the oblique camera view).

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