Marine Science Faculty Publications

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Technical Report

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Beach erosion is a chronic problem along many open-ocean shores of the United States. As coastal populations continue to grow and community infrastructures are threatened by erosion, there is increased demand for accurate information regarding past and present trends and rates of shoreline movement. There is also a need for a comprehensive analysis of shoreline movement that is consistent from one coastal region to another. To meet these national needs, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is conducting an analysis of historical shoreline changes along open-ocean sandy shores of the conterminous United States and parts of Hawaii, Alaska, and the Great Lakes. One purpose of this work is to develop standard, repeatable methods for mapping and analyzing shoreline movement so that periodic, systematic, internally consistent updates regarding coastal erosion and land loss can be made nationally. In the case of this study, the shoreline is the interpreted boundary between the ocean water surface and the sandy beach.

This report on the New England and Mid-Atlantic coasts is the fifth in a series of reports on historical shoreline change. Previous investigations include analyses and descriptive reports of the Gulf of Mexico (Morton and others, 2004), the Southeast Atlantic (Morton and Miller, 2005), and, for California, the sandy shoreline (Hapke and others, 2006) and the coastal cliffs (Hapke and Reid, 2007). This report, like the earlier reports, summarizes the methods of analysis, interprets the results, provides explanations regarding long-term and short-term trends and rates of change, and describes how different coastal communities are responding to coastal erosion. This report differs from the earlier USGS reports in the series in that the previous shoreline change analyses incorporated only four total shorelines to represent specific time periods. The New England and Mid-Atlantic assessment incorporates all shorelines that are available and can be quality-checked. Shoreline change evaluations are based on a comparison of historical shoreline positions digitized from maps or aerial photographic data sources with recent shorelines, at least one of which is derived from lidar (light detection and ranging) surveys. The historical shorelines cover a variety of time periods ranging from the 1800s through the 2000s, whereas the lidar shoreline is from either 1997 or 2000. Long-term rates of change are calculated using all shorelines and short-term rates of change are calculated using the lidar shoreline and the historical shoreline that will produce an assessment for a 25- to 30-year time period. The rates of change presented in this report represent conditions up to the date of the most recent shoreline data and therefore are not intended for predicting future shoreline positions or rates of change. Because of the geomorphology of the New England and Mid-Atlantic (rocky coastlines, large embayments and beaches) as well as data gaps in some areas, this report presents beach erosion rates for 78 percent of the 1,360 kilometers of the New England and Mid-Atlantic coasts.

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U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2010-1118, 57 p.

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