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For coastal residents, the constant movement of sand along the shore is fascinating, until it becomes frightening.

Author: Fran Lightsom

After watching winter storm waves spend their energy carrying away a coastal dune, we find the dune is gone, the beach is long gone, and the waves are undercutting homes and roads. When summer comes, the waves bring sand back to rebuild the beaches and dunes, but sometimes not completely. Often coastal communities choose to bring in extra sand to protect properties along the shore—and not just any sand will do for these “beach nourishment” projects.

Image shows 35 year old seismic and sampling data being flattened out on a tabletop.
Thirty-five years after the data were originally collected as part of a study of glacial geology of the western Gulf of Maine, USGS seismic and sampling data are being used to assist coastal communities in locating offshore sand resources for mitigating coastal erosion.

In 2014, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management funded Larry Ward of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping at the University of New Hampshire to locate offshore sand and gravel resources in the western Gulf of Maine for beach nourishment and other purposes. The goal of the project is to characterize the seafloor off of New Hampshire and map the distribution and thickness of sand and gravel deposits by using existing data; no funds are available to collect new data. Because not enough seafloor samples and cores have been collected to identify the sediment deposits directly, Ward’s group is primarily using data collected with seismic profiling systems (see WHSC Seismic Profiling systems). The seismic data are then verified by the available samples and cores, a process called “ground-truthing.” This requires access to original seismic records and physical samples from research cruises in the Gulf of Maine, which led the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping group to the USGS Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center. 

In August 2015, USGS data librarian Linda McCarthy received an email from Zach McAvoy (Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping) requesting access to seismic records and samples from research cruises conducted on the USGS research vessel R/V Neecho in 1981 and 1982. McCarthy identified the original cruise records that are still available through the Science Center’s data library, along with physical samples (vibracores) collected during other cruises that are available at the Center’s Samples Repository (visit Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center Samples Repository). USGS data specialist VeeAnn Cross arranged for Ward to bring a group of University of New Hampshire students and technicians to visit Woods Hole in November 2015 and January 2016. At the data library, McCarthy and Cross assisted the University of New Hampshire team in evaluating and digitizing seismic profiling data from the cruises while Cross created metadata records to accompany the new digital datasets. At the samples repository, Brian Buczkowski located the physical cores from the cruises and assisted the visitors in photographing and sampling. In addition to collecting the data, the visitors also enjoyed an opportunity to talk science with USGS geologists Laura Brothers and Elizabeth Pendleton. As Ward said later, “Access to the seismic records and vibracores was important for our work. The USGS staff in Woods Hole were extremely helpful in obtaining the records, scanning, and sampling. We appreciate their efforts and the extra time they put in for us.” 

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