Studying How the Beach Changes at Madeira Beach, Florida - AD

Download Video
Right-click and save to download

Detailed Description

The importance of our Nation’s coasts is indisputable. They provide homes for people and animals alike, and support the Nation’s economy. The USGS Coastal Change Hazards team studies how our shorelines change over time, especially following extreme events such as storms and hurricanes. In this video, created for the 2020 virtual St. Petersburg Science Festival, oceanographer Kara Doran of the USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center explains how we study a place that is constantly changing.

Related Science:


Original video without audio description


Date Taken:

Length: 00:11:16

Location Taken: Madeira Beach, FL, US

Video Credits

Crab footage provided with permission from Lisa Rollins


The beach is a
magical place.

It’s beautiful,
relaxing, and fun.

This beauty attracts lots
of people every year
to vacation.

This helps support local
businesses which is important

for people in coastal
communities to live and to work.

The beaches also provide
habitat, or homes,

for many animals like
shorebirds, crabs, and turtles.

Something surprising about
the beach is that

this magical place is
constantly changing

right before your very eyes!

You might think studying
sand is not very exciting,

but watching how the sand moves

and how the beach changes
during extreme events is
really exciting.

So the beach is constantly
changing, but how? And why?

I’m Kara Doran.
I’m an oceanographer

the US
Geological Survey

in St. Petersburg,

And what we do is we study the
effects of storms on our beaches
and we watch how the sand moves

and how that sand moves and
erodes and creates hazards

for people, for infrastructure,
and for habitat.

I’m out here on Madeira Beach.

It’s in Pinellas County Florida.

It’s a beautiful day on
the beach today.

The sun is shining, and
the waves are pretty low.

It would be a nice day to
bring your family to the beach.

But on a stormy day when
there’s a winter storm,

or a tropical storm,
or a hurricane,

the waves get very large.

And when the waves get
very large, they actually

come up onto the beach,
covering the beach

and they move a tremendous
amount of sand.

And so that’s why we’re out
here studying the beach

because we’re trying to predict
how that sand is going to move,

where it will go, and whether
the dunes and beach might erode,

or whether the sand might
get swept onto our roads,

which prevents people from being
able to get out and evacuate
during a storm.

Or, it could even be such a
severe erosion event that

the beach could erode
completely, and form a new inlet

that’s a process called

So many of our inlets in
Pinellas County have been

created by extreme storm events.

So, if you’ve been to John’s
pass or Bunces pass

if you’ve ever gone through
there on a boat or just taken
a look at the beach

that was probably created
by a hurricane.

Understanding how the beach
changes is really important.

But how do we study a place
that is constantly changing?

So because Madeira Beach is
so close to our office in
St. Petersburg,

we’re able to come out and
collect all kinds of
different data

to help us understand
and predict coastal change.

So Justin is
conducting a
walking survey

and what he's
doing here is
as he's walking,

he's recording
the elevation of the beach.

And this is called a
beach profile.

this helps us understand
how much sand is on the beach

and how the sand is
moving around.

Every time he comes out
to take a survey,

he can see the change
in elevation.

We also use it in conjunction
with our camera.

So we have a camera up on
the roof of the Shoreline Resort

And the camera is recording how
the water levels are coming up
on the beach

as the waves crash and
run up the beach.

We also collect information
on tides, storm surge,

breaking waves, and currents,

since the forces they create
are the primary causes of
coastal change.

Water is strong enough to move
lots of sand around

so it’s important to
understand how much water

is moving around on the beach.

How high the water moves up
the beach during a storm

can influence how much the
beach and sand dunes change.

The total water level depends

on several different things.

One is Tides,
how water moves

up and down
the beach every
day in response to the

effects of the sun
and moon on the ocean.

Two is Surge, which
happens when winds push

water up the
beach during storms.

Three, waves which are

the motion of
the water surface

usually caused by the
transfer of energy from wind.

Wave energy
causes the water to
move in acircular motion.

The height
and length of these
waves combined with the

slope of the
beach influence
how high the water gets

Rainwater runoff
can also contribute to

the total water
level in some cases.

We’re able to take this
beach survey along with

the video from the camera
to get a water level elevation

we use these water level
elevations with a
model that we have

that we forecast the
water level elevation.

So we're comparing the data
that we observe with what

we are predicting
to see if it's right.

All of these data
are fed into models

so scientists at the USGS

can track how the ocean can

change our coastal landscapes.

These models help our
scientists predict how and
when the beach will change

so people aren’t
caught by surprise.

These forecasts are available
online for everyone to use.

I really love my job because
I get to study the beach.

I always tell people that I
love to study it because I can

can wear flip flops
for my work, and that’s a bonus.

But, what I really love is
it’s always surprising to me

how much the beach changes
during these storm events.

The best part of the job is the
research that we do in our group

gets out to the public and to
people who manage our beaches

and they use it to make
decisions about how to
best use our beaches

for people and for animals,

and how to use them and
protect them and save them

for many years to come.

We love doing this
research because

our results can make a
difference in people’s lives.

The science conducted by the
USGS Coastal Change Hazards team

can have direct impacts
on the lives of those

who vacation, live, or nest
along our coastlines.