Scientific Partnership Aims to Help Shape Safer Coastal Communities
December 7—University of Pennsylvania scientists will build a wind tunnel to test the sand-capturing capability of five types of dune vegetation. A model of coastal-dune evolution at Oregon State University will be expanded to include management options such as vegetation planting, beach nourishment, and beach scraping. The University of Alabama will investigate the vulnerability of dunes to multiple storms. These are among the new collaborative research projects undertaken by coastal scientists in the federal government and academia. The goal is to improve management of coastal dunes, which are vital to maintaining the resilience of coastal communities, ecosystems, and economies. The USGS, US Army Corps of Engineers, and the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association are working together to advance coastal-dune science and management through workshops and research investments.
Preparing for Tsunami Hazards on the Pacific Coast of Washington
January 9—Hours before the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and the ensuing catastrophic tsunami struck Japan, John Schelling spoke at a public meeting in the coastal community of Ocean Shores, Washington, about preparing for tsunami hazards. The few dozen people attending the meeting went home that evening and watched in horror as the events in Japan unfolded. The next time John met with the community, hundreds of people showed up. Suddenly, the theoretical hazards of tsunamis were real. “The State of Washington realized its long, beautiful coastline on the Pacific Ocean exposed so many of its citizens to tsunami hazards, and we set out to do something about it. Emergency managers and local authorities needed a better understanding of the scope and scale of the problem as well as the vulnerability of residents and tourists,” said Schelling. Schelling, who then managed the Earthquake and Tsunami Hazards Program for the Washington Emergency Management Division, approached USGS geographer Nathan Wood about his work on tsunami hazards.
Preparing for the Storm: Predicting Where Our Coasts Are at Risk
January 11—Living in the Outer Banks means living with the power of the sea. Jutting out from the coast of North Carolina into the Atlantic Ocean, this series of sandy barrier islands is particularly vulnerable to damage from major storms. In April 2016, another nor’easter was set to strike, but this time, Dare County officials were approached by their local weather forecaster with a new kind of prediction. “It was relatively new, so it didn’t really grab our attention at first,” said Drew Pearson, Dare County’s Emergency Management Director, of the technology used by Rich Bandy, Meteorologist-In-Charge of the office of the National Weather Service (NWS) in Morehead City, North Carolina. But Bandy’s prediction—that the ocean would “overwash” the dunes in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina—turned out to be true.
Storms That Battered Santa Cruz, California, Brought Beneficial Sand to Beaches
January 12—On January 12-13, just days after “atmospheric river” storms dropped heavy rain on Santa Cruz, California, scientists from the USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center surveyed local beaches to compile a three-dimensional map of storm-related changes. Using a laser scanner, GPS-equipped backpacks, and a sonar-equipped boat and personal watercraft, they measured the beaches and seafloor around the mouths of the San Lorenzo River and Soquel Creek. Early results show the storms washed approximately 100,000 cubic meters (about 10,000 dump-truck loads) of sand to each river mouth. The added sediment built temporary bars, which enhanced local surfing spots. In the long term, the sand should help protect beaches and developed bluffs and shoreline. The fieldwork complements twice-a-year surveys from Santa Cruz to Moss Landing. The research results should assist communities planning for sea-level rise and other coastal hazards.
What’s Drifting Beneath Kauai’s Ocean?
January 17—Scientists from the USGS put together a detailed picture of the physical environment of the coral reefs at Makua Beach. Understanding just what these reefs are exposed to and for how long may help explain why some corals here have succumbed to black-band disease. To watch the video: https://www.usgs.gov/media/videos/whats-drifting-beneath-kauais-ocean.
Changes in Rainfall, Temperature Expected to Transform Coastal Wetlands This Century
January 23—Sea-level rise is not the only aspect of climate change expected to affect coastal wetlands: changes in rainfall and temperature are predicted to transform wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico and around the world within the century. These changes will take place regardless of sea-level rise, a new study from the USGS and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley concludes. Such changes are expected to affect the plant communities found in coastal wetlands. For example, some salt marshes are predicted to become mangrove forests, while others could become salty mud flats. These shifts in vegetation could affect the ecological and economic services wetlands provide to the communities that rely on them. “Coastal wetlands are an invaluable resource,” said Christopher Gabler, a former USGS scientist, currently an assistant professor at the Texas university, and lead author of the study, published January 23 in Nature Climate Change. For more information: https://www.usgs.gov/news/changes-rainfall-temperature-expected-transform-coastal-wetlands-century.
Kilauea Volcano - Sea Cliff at Kamokuna Ocean Entry Collapses
February 2—Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) geologists hiked to the Kamokuna ocean entry today to assess the status of the sea cliff. When they arrived, the “firehose” flow was no longer visible. However, spatter (bits of molten lava) and black sand flying through the steam plume indicated that lava was still flowing into the ocean and interacting explosively with seawater. Just below the left side of the steam cloud, a small shelf of the Kamokuna lava delta that survived the New Year's Eve collapse can be seen. Within minutes of HVO geologists reaching the ocean-entry site, the sea cliff seaward of the hot crack collapsed with no warning; fortunately, they were far enough away to not be in harm’s way. Video of the “firehose”: https://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/multimedia/uploads/multimediaFile-1623.mp4.
Bigger May Not Be Better When It Comes to Mississippi River Diversions
February 8—River diversions are a common coastal wetland-restoration tool, but recent research, conducted by USGS in collaboration with researchers in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Louisiana State University (LSU) and the LSU AgCenter, has shown that large-scale Mississippi River diversions may significantly change water quality in estuaries, affecting economically important shellfish and fish species. River diversions are used to provide sediment and nutrients to surrounding estuaries to help rebuild wetlands, and are managed by the State of Louisiana in partnership with the US Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies. Large-scale diversions in the Mississippi River have been planned to enhance coastal-wetland resilience, helping them to keep pace with sea-level rise. “The large-scale diversions will likely cause shifts in salinity, which have huge implications for the plants and animals that need a specific salinity,” said Hongqing Wang, USGS Research Ecologist and lead author of the study.
Gas Hydrate Breakdown Unlikely to Cause Massive Greenhouse Gas Release
February 9—The breakdown of methane hydrates due to warming climate is unlikely to lead to massive amounts of methane being released to the atmosphere, according to a recent interpretive review of scientific literature performed by the USGS and the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York. Methane hydrate, which is also referred to as gas hydrate, is a naturally occurring, ice-like form of methane and water that is stable within a narrow range of pressure and temperature conditions. These conditions are mostly found in undersea sediments at water depths greater than 1,000 to 1,650 feet (305 to 503 meters) and in and beneath permafrost (permanently frozen ground) at high latitudes. Methane hydrates are distinct from conventional natural gas, shale gas, and coalbed methane reservoirs and are not currently exploited for energy production, either in the United States or the rest of the world.
Walrus Sea-Ice Habitats Melting Away - November 2
Warmer Ocean Waters Seen to Spur Drought in Africa - December 15
Turning the Tide on the Chesapeake Bay - January 17
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