National Assessment of Storm-Induced Coastal Change Hazards

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This project focuses on understanding the magnitude and variability of extreme storm impacts on sandy beaches. The overall objective is to improve real-time and scenario-based predictions of coastal change to support management of coastal infrastructure, resources, and safety. 

Oblique aerial photograph near Rodanthe, NC, looking south along the coast on August 30, 2011, three days after landfall of Hurr

Oblique aerial photograph near Rodanthe, North Carolina, looking south along the coast on August 30, 2011, three days after landfall of Hurricane Irene. (Credit: Karen Morgan, USGS. Public domain.)

The National Assessment of Storm-Induced Coastal Change Hazards component of the National Assessment of Coastal Change Hazards project focuses on understanding the magnitude and variability of extreme storm impacts on sandy beaches. The overall objective is to improve real-time and scenario-based predictions of coastal change to support management of coastal infrastructure, resources, and safety. 

Our Nation's coastlines are in constant flux through the processes of erosion and deposition. Storms of various types impact the coast further. Hurricanes are more likely to affect the Atlantic and Gulf coast states, while winter storms affect all coastlines throughout the conterminous United States as well as Alaska and Hawaii. The impacts to population, infrastructure, and habitat vary geographically, depending on shoreline type, whether sandy beach, rocky shore, sea cliff, barrier island or wetland.

Storm-Induced Coastal Change

Hurricanes and other extreme storms generate storm surge and large waves, eroding the beach and dune system and reshaping the coastal landscape. Six types of coastal change observed along the coastlines of the United States are: beach erosion, dune erosion, overwash, inundation and island breaching, marsh erosion, and coastal cliff erosion.

Scenario-Based Assessments

Storm-induced water levels, due to both surge and waves, are compared to beach and dune elevations to determine the probabilities of three types of coastal change.

Real-Time Storm Response

Response activities include documenting pre-storm morphology, estimating storm-induced extreme water levels, forecasting storm-specific probabilities of coastal change, measuring post-storm morphology, quantifying storm-induced coastal change, and updating assessments of vulnerabilities to storm-induced coastal erosion.

Operational Total Water Level and Coastal Change Forecasts

The USGS is working with the National Weather Service to combine USGS-derived beach morphology and wave predictions from the Nearshore Wave Prediction System (NWPS) to provide regional weather offices detailed forecasts of wave-induced water levels. Two pilot study areas are in the testing phase: Duck, North Carolina and Sunset Beach, Florida.

Storm-Induced Coastal Processes

Process studies examine the physical processes at work prior to, during, and following coastal storm events. Understanding the processes involved in coastal landform evolution will improve the accuracy of the assessments of storm-induced coastal change hazards

 Large waves breaking on cliffs in Santa Cruz, California; vegetation in the foreground and sea blends into sky in background

Large waves breaking on cliffs in Santa Cruz, California, February 13, 2016. (Credit: Christie Hegermiller, USGS. Public domain.)

West Coast Storm Impacts

We are developing rigorous research tools to understand the physical impacts that climate change and sea-level rise will have on dynamic geologic settings along Pacific and Arctic coasts. This research covers an enormous range of coastal settings: from permafrost coasts, to the Puget Sound estuary, the California coast, and low-lying Pacific atolls.

By understanding the effects of extreme storms, including coastal flooding, changes in the shoreline, and movement of sediment, we can develop better models for understanding long-term vulnerability of sea-level rise in various coastal settings, and help coastal managers and businesses plan for a changing climate. More info: Coastal Climate Impacts and Remote Sensing Coastal Change

Video Remote Sensing of Coastal Processes

Video observations of the coast are used to monitor a range of coastal processes, for example changes in the shoreline position, both seasonally and due to long-term effects such as sea-level rise, and instances of beach and dune erosion during extreme storm events. More info: Video Remote Sensing of Coastal Processes and Remote Sensing Coastal Change