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Southwest Washington Coastal Erosion Workshop 2000

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The fifth and final principal investigators' workshop of the Southwest Washington Coastal Erosion Study was held in Olympia, WA, on November 15th-17th. The USGS and the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) co-sponsored the meeting, which was hosted at the DOE facility in Lacey. The purpose of the workshop was to bring together the entire multi-disciplinary group of study investigators and associated engineers and scientists working on the study or on related projects within the Columbia River littoral cell.

This year, approximately 45 people participated, including project scientists from the USGS, DOE, and several universities. Representatives from local coastal communities, the Shoalwater Bay Tribe, Washington State Parks, coastal engineering firms and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Portland District, Seattle District, and the Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Mississippi) also attended.

USGS participants included Vee Ann Cross and Dave Twichell (Woods Hole, MA), Laura Moore (St. Petersburg, FL), Mike Carr, Guy Gelfenbaum, Ann Gibbs, Laura Kerr, Chris Sherwood, and Laura Torresan (Menlo Park, CA), and Paul Beauchemin (Associate Chief of Operations and Budget in the Office of Communications, Reston, VA).

workshop participants
Participants of the 5th Southwest Washington Coastal Erosion Workshop, November 2000.

The Southwest Washington Coastal Erosion Study, now in its fifth year, is a 5-year multi-disciplinary investigation of a 165-km-long coastal region between Tillamook Head, OR, and Point Grenville, WA. The project is co-sponsored by the USGS and the Washington State Department of Ecology. The primary goals of the study are to understand regional sediment-system dynamics, determine natural and anthropogenic influences on the littoral system, and predict coastal behavior at a management scale (i.e., decades and tens of kilometers). Study tasks include:

  • establishment of a geodetic control network,

  • investigation of evolutionary sequences of the coastal barriers,

  • analysis of historical shoreline and bathymetric change,

  • determination of a sediment budget for the littoral system,

  • mapping of inner shelf and Holocene stratigraphy,

  • monitoring of active beach and shoreface processes,

  • modeling of shoreline change and sediment transport,

  • development of a project database, and

  • providing outreach and educational information.

This year's workshop focused on integrating study results, identifying final study products, and discussing unresolved questions. Investigators gave short progress reports on findings and accomplishments, presented posters of new and ongoing efforts, and participated in longer summary talks and group discussions on integrated topics and critical unknowns. In contrast to previous workshops, in which presentations and discussions were organized according to process time scales (e.g., geologic to daily), this year's workshop was organized by sedimentary environment: the Columbia River Estuary, Coastal Barriers and Beaches, Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor, and Ebb-Tidal Deltas and Inner Shelf.

Clearly evident in this year's workshop was the tremendous progress that has been made in understanding the geologic history and processes active within the Columbia River littoral cell. Five years of intensive data collection, interpretation, and integration have provided study researchers, local communities, state regulatory agencies, and other federal agencies, as well as the scientific community at large, an incredible database to help understand coastal behavior on the Washington coast.

Some of the highlights of this year's workshop included:

  • a visual tour through the late Holocene framework and evolution of the southwest Washington coast,

  • results of a multibeam survey around Grays Harbor (collected in summer 1999), showing a potential surface expression of a fault north of Grays Harbor and several NE-SW-trending, gravel-filled troughs south of the Grays Harbor jetty, possibly associated with circulation around the jetty, and

  • discussions on climate change and potential influences on coastal erosion.

The climate-change discussions included:

  • identification of annual cycles of shoreline accretion in ground-penetrating radar (GPR) records (back to the 1700s), showing some correlation between thickness and El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate phases,

  • large-scale changes in coastal morphology (shoal breaching at Willapa Bay) during El Niño years,

  • recent sea-level history as determined by tide-gauge records, suggesting acceleration in the rate of sea-level rise in the Columbia River littoral cell since the late 1970s, and

  • evidence of an increase in annual wave heights in the Pacific Northwest since the late 1970s.

Information on physical processes active in the area included a circulation model for Grays Harbor, the quantification of offshore and alongshore sediment transport during the fall of 1999, and wave-refraction model calibration. Finally, presentations on shoreline and nearshore morphologic change, the effects of jetty emplacement on shoreline change at Grays Harbor, and shoreline-change modeling helped to bring together the concept of how changes to the regional sediment budget influence shoreline change. The consensus message of the workshop was the importance of regional sediment management in determining the future shoreline position along the southwest coast of Washington.

The workshop ended with a group discussion on study completion, final products, and future work. Dr. Peter Cowell of the University of Sydney and Dr. Paul Komar of Oregon State University concluded the meeting by providing independent, objective evaluations of the study.

After five years of intensive research on the coast of southwest Washington and northwest Oregon, the state of knowledge of both Holocene history and modern processes has vastly improved. Along with the new knowledge, however, comes the realization that some history of this complex coastal environment is yet to be learned. Questions such as the following remain to be answered: What is the geologic/historic/modern rate of sediment influx to the coast from the Columbia River? Is the inner shelf a source or a sink of sediment for the beaches? Where will the shoreline be in 10, 50, 100 years?

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Research cover story:
MRIB: Ocean Geo-Library

Outreach Nat'l Geography Awareness Week


Lake Tahoe: "Wonders of the Universe" Calendar

Plymouth County Detention Center

African Dust

Bill Normark Interview

Rock Course for Teachers

Meetings Geologic Framework of U.S. Coastal & Marine Regions

Coastal Marsh Die-Back

Southwest Washington Coastal Erosion

Southeatern U.S. Benthic Habitat

Southern California Benthic Habitat

9th International Coral Reef Symposium

Gulf of Maine

Long Island Sound


Awards Distinguished Lecturer

Earthquake Hazards Video

Hapke Honored by CSBPA

Staff & Center News Senior Leadership Visit

Director's Office & NOAA Visitors

Suspension Modeling

Publications Dec./Jan. Publications List U. S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
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