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Mapping Beach Changes After Devastating Montecito Debris Flows

March 26, 2018


During the week of March 26, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey will begin four days of mapping selected beaches and the adjacent seafloor in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Results will be compared to surveys from last fall to highlight changes due to winter waves, and to sediment inputs from area streams. 

The study area includes Montecito, California, which was devastated on January 9 by debris flows that killed 21 people.

USGS scientists are measuring beach topography and seafloor bathymetry in this area to better understand long-term coastal changes. The researchers will use precision GPS units on backpacks and on an all-terrain vehicle for beach surveys, and personal watercraft equipped with GPS and sonar for bathymetry surveys. This will be the first comprehensive beach and nearshore survey since the Montecito debris flows on January 9, which was the first major sediment input to Santa Barbara beaches since 2005.

Man in foul-weather gear and hard hat sits in a parking lot on all-terrain vehicle equipped with GPS, ocean in background.
​​​​​​​Jeff Hansen on an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) at Ocean Beach, San Francisco, in 2006. The ATV is equipped with instrumentation which records beach topography. (Credit: Patrick Barnard, USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center. Public domain.)

Conducting surveys will ultimately provide a detailed picture of how our coastline reacts to changes in waves and sediment input. Results will be incorporated into models of future coastal change, contributing directly to California communities planning for how to protect their coastlines.


Media availability for interviews and photo opportunity:

Scientific coastal surveys on foot, by ATV, and by personal watercraft.


Project lead Daniel Hoover and other scientists from the USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center.


Tuesday, March 27, approximately 8:30-9:30 a.m., at Carpinteria State Beach, and

Friday March 30, approximately 8:30-9:30 a.m., on Goleta Pier at Goleta Beach Park.

Note times are approximate and may vary due to tides, weather and survey logistics.

RSVP to Daniel Hoover: (831) 236-8119


Sandy coastlines are a valuable resource that protect man-made structures from waves, serve as habitat for important species, and provide a variety of recreational opportunities. Major storms and debris flows that wreak havoc on land may also provide benefits - supplying sand needed to replenish local beaches.

man walking along wet sand on beach wearing a backpack with an antenna sticking pout of it
USGS scientist Daniel Hoover mapping the beach at Santa Cruz with a GPS-equipped backpack unit. (Credit: Andrew Stevens, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)
Man sits on a personal watercraft floating idle in the water, wearing safety equipment, watercraft is equipped with gear.
Personal watercraft equipped with GPS and sonar (echo sounder) is used to collect detailed, nearshore bathymetry (depth) information. (Public domain.)

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