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Analysis of seafloor change around Dauphin Island, Alabama, 1987–2015

September 26, 2017

Dauphin Island is a 26-km-long barrier island located southwest of Mobile Bay, Alabama, in the north-central Gulf of Mexico. The island contains sandy beaches, dunes, maritime forests, freshwater ponds and intertidal wetlands, providing habitat for many endangered and threatened species. Dauphin Island also provides protection for and maintains estuarine conditions within Mississippi Sound, supporting oyster habitat and seagrasses. Wetland marshes along the Alabama mainland are protected by the island from wave-induced erosion during storms approaching from the Gulf of Mexico. Over the years, the island has been eroded by storms, most recently by Hurricane Ivan (2004) and Hurricane Katrina (2005) (Ivan/Katrina), which breached the island along its narrowest extent and caused damage to infrastructure. Along with storms producing significant episodic change, long-term beach erosion has exposed numerous pine tree stumps in the shoreface. The stumps are remnants of past maritime forests and reflect the consistent landward retreat of the island.

Island change has prompted the State of Alabama to evaluate restoration alternatives to increase island resilience and sustainability by protecting and preserving the natural habitat, and by understanding the processes that influence shoreline change. Under a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, restoration alternatives are being developed that will allow the State to make decisions on engineering and ecological restoration designs based on scientific analysis of likely outcomes and tradeoffs between impacts to stakeholder interests. Science-based assessment of the coastal zone requires accurate and up-to-date baseline data to provide a valid image of present conditions and to support modeling of coastal processes. Bathymetric elevation measurements are essential to this requirement. In August 2015, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Geological Survey conducted single beam and multibeam bathymetric surveys around Dauphin Island using a variety of shallow draft vessels and equipment. More than 95 square kilometers of seafloor was imaged. The data were integrated into a seamless digital elevation model to provide a high-resolution bathymetric map of the seafloor extending 9.5 kilometers seaward from the island’s eastern end and approximately 2 km along the rest of the island on the gulf and sound sides. Water depths range from 0.3 to 15.0 meters (m), with depths greater than 10.0 m constrained to the Mobile ship channel on the extreme eastern flank of the coverage.

To measure seafloor change, two periods of historic hydrographic survey data were acquired from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information data archive. The two timeframes (1987–1988 and 2005–2007) were selected for their completeness of spatial coverage and because they encompass a period of significant storm impacts to the island. These timeframes were compared to each other and with the 2015 dataset to monitor elevation gain (sediment accretion) and elevation loss (sediment erosion) over time. Sediment dynamics is by far the most significant driver of nearshore elevation change in this area. The Mississippi-Alabama inner shelf is a passive margin, and other influences on elevation change (for example, tectonic adjustment, Holocene subsidence, and eustatic sea-level rise) are neither significant nor variable enough over this time period to have an imprint.

Publication Year 2017
Title Analysis of seafloor change around Dauphin Island, Alabama, 1987–2015
DOI 10.3133/ofr20171112
Authors James G. Flocks, Nancy T. DeWitt, Chelsea A. Stalk
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2017-1112
Index ID ofr20171112
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center