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St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center

Coastal and Marine Geology Program > St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center > Storm Impacts and Vulnerability of Coastal Beaches > Research > Update Assessments of Storm-Induced Erosion Hazards on Sandy-Impacted Coastlines

Hurricane Sandy Response - Storm Impacts and Vulnerability of Coastal Beaches

Update Assessments of Storm-Induced Erosion Hazards on Sandy-Impacted Coastlines

Sandy beaches provide a natural barrier between the ocean and inland communities, ecosystems, and resources. However, these dynamic environments move and change in response to winds, waves, and currents. During a hurricane, these changes can be large and sometimes catastrophic. High waves and storm surge act together to erode beaches and inundate low-lying lands, putting inland communities at risk. A decade of USGS research on storm-driven coastal change hazards has provided the data and modeling capabilities to identify areas of the coastline that are likely to experience extreme and potentially hazardous erosion during a hurricane.

Dataviewer screen shot with erosion hazards

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(Erosion Hazards Viewer)
Percentage of sandy beaches very likely (probability>0.9) to experience erosion associated with collision, overwash, and inundation during category 1-4 hurricane landfall.
Location Hurricane Intensity Category
U.S. Coast,
New Jersey6599100100
New York739899100
U.S. Coast,
25 49 78 95
New Jersey15547597
New York18367187
U.S. Coast,
7 24 46 68
New Jersey5155071
New York2193251

The analysis is based on a storm-impact scaling model that uses observations of beach morphology collected after Hurricane Sandy combined with sophisticated hydrodynamic models to predict how the mid-Atlantic coast will respond to the direct landfall of category 1-4 hurricanes. Hurricane-induced water levels, due to both surge and waves, are compared to beach and dune elevations to determine the probabilities of three types of coastal change:

  1. collision dune face is eroded by waves and surge
  2. overwash - sand is transported landward over the beach and dune by waves and surge
  3. inundation - beach and dune are completely and continuously submerged by surge and wave setup.
Following the passage of Hurricane Sandy, 74% of dune-backed beaches along the mid-Atlantic coast are very likely to experience collision for a category 1 hurricane landfall, compared to 89% pre-storm. Hurricane Sandy eroded the dune face in many places, resulting in a narrower dune with a higher dune toe elevation and a decreased likelihood of dune erosion due to collision. In other locations, the mean beach slope decreased, resulting in lower values for wave-induced water levels. For a category 4 hurricane landfall 95% of the post-Sandy mid-Atlantic beaches are very likely to experience overwash, an increase of 3% over pre-storm. The fraction of coastline very likely to experience inundation also increased from 66 to 68% following Hurricane Sandy.

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Page Last Modified: December 05, 2016 @ 11:24 AM (JSG)