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Fire Island Coastal Change

Morphologic Change - Integration of Long- and Short-Term Change

Time series plot of shoreline change for Fire Island
Time series plot of shoreline change for Fire Island

Time series plot of shoreline change for Fire Island: The shoreline dataset is subdivided into shorter-term groups and the rates of change are plotted through time (Y-axis). The colors show the relative magnitudes of the rates of change (red = erosion and blue = accretion). The time series reveals several things—there are locations where the sign of shoreline change persist through long periods of time and appear to have consistent length-scaling (i.e. similar distance between zones of erosion or accretion along shore). In addition, the long-term trends are disrupted in the time periods beginning in the early 1990s, and do not re-form for approximately a decade. The perturbation in the long-term record is attributed to a series of powerful nor'easters that impacted this coastline in 1990s.

Patterns of long-term shoreline change are not only variable in space but also are highly variable through time. These variations can be caused by a number of factors including frequency, severity and duration of storms, and human activities such as beach nourishment projects. Understanding how the shoreline behaves and fluctuates in the long-term provides insight as to what may happen in the future, and provides a baseline for models that predict coastal change.

The long-term record of shoreline change shows the average trends over a specific time period (79 years for Fire Island). Additional information can be derived from examining shorter periods of time within the long-term record and how the behavior over the shorter time periods persist in the longer-term.

shoreline is very sinuous   shoreline is very straight
Photos showing the highly variable shoreline at Fire Island. In some locations and at certain times, the shoreline is very sinuous (left [larger version]). In other locations and times, the shoreline is very straight (right [larger version]). In order to understand what a shoreline may do in the future, we need to look at long periods of time over which some of the short-term variability is averaged out.

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