Category Archives: Sandy Storm

Lidar Confirms Sandy’s Dramatic Coastal Change Impacts and Future Coastal Vulnerability

Aerial view of the breach at Old Inlet, Fire Island, looking from the Atlantic Ocean to the bay, on Saturday, November 10, 2012. . Photo source: National Park Services Photo/Abell


The extent of Hurricane Sandy’s wrath, and the future coastal vulnerability of the region, is clear in a new U.S. Geological Survey analysis of recently collected lidar coastal data. The research documented particularly dramatic impacts within the Fire Island National Seashore on Long Island, NY.

Lidar, or light detection and ranging, uses lasers to measure elevations in a specific distance/area. Researchers used the lidar data, collected during an airborne survey, to construct a high-resolution three-dimensional map of before- and after-storm conditions.

This information can help scientists and decision-makers identify the areas along the shore that have been made more vulnerable to future coastal hazards in the storm’s wake.

“Coastal dunes are our last line of natural defense from the onslaught of storms and rising seas,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “They are dynamic features that retreat from the battering of major storms like Sandy and rebuild in the aftermath; their natural cycle is inconsistent with immobile development.”

USGS research oceanographer Hilary Stockdon said that the lidar data show that at Ocean Bay Park, for example, storm surge and waves associated with Sandy demolished protective dunes – and the structures built on top of them.

“In the pre-storm elevation image of Ocean Beach, you can see houses that are sitting right on the sand dune,” Stockdon said. “But in the post-storm elevation image, the high dune elevation is gone. The dune and the houses on it were completely washed away.”

The pre- and post-storm ground conditions at Fire Island were similarly dramatic, USGS coastal geologist Cheryl Hapke said, noting that the USGS worked closely with the National Park Service to gather field data on the island.

“We found that there was widespread dune erosion and overwash,” Hapke said. “On average, where the dunes were not completely overwashed, they eroded back 70 feet — the equivalent of 30 years of change. Our research also showed that dunes lost as much as 15 feet of elevation.”

The lidar analysis, said Stockdon and Hapke, combined with ground survey data, and pre- and post-storm oblique aerial photography, tell a dramatic story of Sandy’s catastrophic effect on the shoreline – and future coastal vulnerability – in this region. It will also help to demonstrate the accuracy of coastal change predictions calculated before the storm in this area.

“This work can help coastal communities understand where they are most vulnerable to future storms,” Stockdon said “and help decision makers at all levels create policies that protect their economic, environmental, and ecological health in the coastal areas most susceptible to extreme storm impacts.”

Original Article, USGS

Superstorm Moves Film From Theoretical to Concrete

“Here’s the trailer for Shored Up, a documentary about the barrier islands of the U.S., featuring Long Beach Island, New Jersey. Surfers, scientists, politicians and residents help bring us a birds’ eye view of the beauty and danger of the living in these low-lying communities on our ocean’s edge. A Youtube Video Uploaded by : Mangrovemedia


In the documentary “Shored Up,” scientists warn that with a rising sea level, a major storm could put New Jersey’s barrier islands underwater and create devastating storm surges.

In other words, what happened last month when Superstorm Sandy slammed into New Jersey and New York…

Read Full Article, ABC News

Shored Up The Movie

Tomorrow Is Too Late for Adaptation to Climate Change

Santa Lucia Beach, Camagüey Province, Cuba. Photo source: ©© innoxiuss


You can still see broken plates, toys, books and some photographs among the rubble that was once the homes of Rey Antonio Acosta’s family and other families in Mar Verde, the beach community where Hurricane Sandy made landfall in this eastern Cuban city.

“Come here and see what pain is,” the 12-year-old boy, who will forever remember the early hours of Oct. 25, when winds of up to 200 kilometres per hour and waves nine metres high wrecked dozens of houses along the coast here, tells Tierramérica…

Researchers studying the impact of climate change in Cuba estimate that 577 communities in the country will be exposed to floods, due to a rising sea level and the swell caused by increasingly intense hurricanes.

They recommend working to protect ecosystems like mangroves and coral reefs that provide natural barriers against tropical storms, as well as avoiding investment in construction in high-risk seaside areas…

Read Full Article, IPS

The Cost Of Doing Nothing

Neponsit, NY. Aerial pictures of New York’s coast, after superstorm Sandy devastated the area. Photo courtesy of: © Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines (PSDS) / WCU


For years, the city and the state of New York commissioned reports about the dangers of rising sea levels combined with a powerful hurricane. And for years, dissuaded by the costs of doing something, New York put in place few new preparations for a massive storm surge.

“… the best way to protect a house on the waterfront is not to build the house in the first place…”

Read Full Article, Huffington Post

We Need to Retreat From the Beach, An Op Ed by Orrin H. Pilkey.
As ocean waters warm, the Northeast is likely to face more Sandy-like storms. And as sea levels continue to rise, the surges of these future storms will be higher and even more deadly. We can’t stop these powerful storms. But we can reduce the deaths and damage they cause…

Study: NJ Beaches 30-40 Feet Narrower After Storm

Mantoloking. Aerial pictures of New Jersey’s coast, after superstorm Sandy devastated the area. Photo courtesy of: © Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines (PSDS) / WCU


The average New Jersey beach is 30 to 40 feet narrower after Superstorm Sandy, according to a survey that is sure to intensify a long-running debate on whether federal dollars should be used to replenish stretches of sand that have washed out to sea. Some of New Jersey’s famous beaches lost half their sand when Sandy slammed ashore…

“Taxpayers are not surprised when they learn how Congress wastes billions of dollars on questionable programs and projects each year, but it may still shock taxpayers to know that Congress has literally dumped nearly $3 billion into beach projects that have washed out to sea…”

Read Full Article, ABC News

North Carolina, Delmarva Coastlines Changed by Hurricane Sandy

Oblique aerial photographs of Mantoloking, NJ. View looking west along the New Jersey shore. Storm waves and surge cut across the barrier island at Mantoloking, NJ, eroding a wide beach, destroying houses and roads, and depositing sand onto the island and into the back-bay. Construction crews with heavy machinery are seen clearing sand from roads and pushing sand seaward to build a wider beach and protective berm just days after the storm. The yellow arrow in each image points to the same feature. Captions and Images source: USGS.


The USGS has released a series of aerial photographs showing before-and-after images of Hurricane Sandy’s impacts on the Atlantic Coast. Among the latest photo pairs to be published are images showing the extent of coastal change in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.

The photos, part of a USGS assessment of coastal change from as far south as the Outer Banks of North Carolina to as far north as Massachusetts, show that the storm caused dramatic changes to portions of shoreline extending hundreds of miles.

Pre- and post-storm images of the New Jersey and New Yorkshoreline in particular tell a story of a coastal landscape that was considerably altered by the historic storm. Meanwhile, images from hundreds of miles south of the storm’s landfall demonstrate that the storm’s breadth caused significant coastal change as far south as the Carolinas.

“Sandy taught us yet again that not all Cat-1 hurricanes are created equal: the superstorm’s enormous fetch over the Atlantic produced storm surge and wave erosion of historic proportions,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “We have seized this opportunity to gather unique data on a major coastline-altering event.”

As major storms approach, the USGS conducts pre-storm and post-storm flights to gather aerial images along the length of the coastline expected to experience impacts from the storm’s landfall. Identifying sites of such impacts helps scientists understand which areas are likely to undergo the most severe impacts from future storms, and improves future coastal impact forecasting.

Photo pairs from North Carolina to Massachusetts are now available online.

“This storm’s impact on sandy beaches included disruption of infrastructure in the south, such as overwash of roads near Pea Island, Buxton, and Rodanthe in N.C., and some dune erosion near Duck, N.C.,” said St. Petersburg-based USGS oceanographer Nathaniel Plant. Such storm-induced changes to the coastal profile can jeopardize the resilience of impacted coastal communities in the path of subsequent storms.

“Houses and infrastructure may be more vulnerable to future storms because beaches are narrower and dunes are lower,” Plant said.

Overwash occurs when storm surge and waves exceed the elevation of protective sand dunes, thereby transporting sand inland. In addition to threatening infrastructure like roadways, it can bury portions of buildings and cause extensive property damage.

The configuration of a coastline’s physical features determine how it will respond to storm forces, and whether it will experience erosion, overwash, or inundation.

In South Bethany, Delaware, the storm appears to have eroded a low dune that had stood between the Atlantic and a row of beachfront homes. Like overwash, beach and dune erosion can compromise a coastline’s natural defenses against future storms.

The Hurricanes and Extreme Storms team aims to quantify the degree to which such these defenses have weakened in all areas Hurricane Sandy impacted.

Data collected from these surveys are also used to improve predictive models of potential impacts from future severe storms. Before a storm makes landfall, USGS makes these predictions to help coastal communities identify areas particularly vulnerable to severe coastal change, such as beach and dune erosion, overwash, and inundation.

For instance, in the days before Sandy approached the eastern seaboard, the USGS ran models forecasting that 91 percent of the Delmarva coastline would experience beach and dune erosion, while 98 percent and 93 percent of beaches and dunes in New Jersey and New York, respectively, were likely to erode. Preliminary analysis suggests that Hurricane Sandy rapidly displaced massive quantities of sand in a capacity that visibly changed the landscape.

The USGS assessment also includes pre- and post-landfall airborne lidar data, which offers a more quantitative look at the extent of coastal change caused by Sandy. Lidar, or light detection and ranging, is an aircraft-based remote sensing method that uses laser pulses to collect highly detailed ground elevation data.

The view is looking northwest across the south shore of Long Island towards Mecox Bay. This location is a very narrow and periodically opens during large storms. Large volumes of material were transported into Mecox Bay when it breached during the storm. One week after the storm, the breach was being closed by mechanical means. The yellow arrow in each image points to the same feature. Captions and Images source: USGS

Original Article, USGS

Sandy’s Destruction Revealed in Aerial Scans, LiveScience

An Evolving Coastal City

Sandy Aftermath, Lower Manhattan. Photo source: ©© Gilad Lotan

By Marcha Johnson, November 12, 2012

In response to Superstorm Sandy, the NY Times and other news media are to be applauded for publishing a series of imaginative ideas for rethinking our relationship with the shore. Two of the most eye-catching images were a giant tide gate at the mouth of the harbor, and Manhattan surrounded by salt marsh. Oyster reefs were proposed as shoreline stabilization. A little closer look at these proposals reveals that none of them, exciting as their renderings might look, could have “saved the city” from Sandy, that is, the whole city.

Parts of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Is, would have been outside the tidal surge protection, or subject to surge from other directions, along with Long Island and New Jersey. If the storm had brought torrential rain, as such weather systems often do, flooding in low areas would have been widespread anyway. Salt marshes exist up to the spring high tide line, about elevation 4 feet in our region; oyster reefs generally occur around mid-tide. Surrounding Manhattan with oyster reefs and/or marshes would not have prevented flooding by a storm surge of elevation 13 feet, regardless of other benefits to the environment.

The issue of communities with fixed urban structures in flood zones facing storms and/or rising sea level is larger than NYC; it is not new, unique nor insurmountable. Long-lived civilizations care for more than one city at a time, one issue at a time. New York City is part of an interconnected regional system of economies, transportation infrastructure and social fabric from Washington to Boston; the whole corridor faces the question of how to adapt, as does the rest of our East and West Coasts, and cities around the world.

Building housing and critical infrastructure at grade along waterways (ConEd facilities and FDR on the East River), dunes and barrier beaches (the Rockaways) and floodplains and wetlands (much of lower Manhattan) involved choices by governments, real estate developers, zoning planners and private and public buyers over a couple centuries. Sea level has been rising since the end of the last Ice Age around 10,000 years ago. As for the expensive infrastructure investment needing protection… most of it is quite recent, less than 100 years old. Rebuilding in different ways as technology and conditions change is a normal part of what cities do.

This is an excellent moment to reconsider the basis of former decisions… to come up with more highly evolved types of coastal cities, adaptable to changing conditions.”
—Marcha Johnson

This is an excellent moment to reconsider the basis of former decisions based on the best current information, to draw on the wisdom of other water-edge societies especially indigenous cultures, and engage the most creative, puzzle-solving contemporary minds which can be found, to come up with more highly evolved types of coastal cities, adaptable to changing conditions.

Speaking on last Sunday’s National Public Radio radio program, On Being, writer Joanna Macy described the present as, “The Great Turning,” a transition from a society shaped primarily by industrial growth to a society structured to be life-sustaining.

Here are three ideas for approaching a life-sustaining kind of society, one which adapts to changing conditions instead of rebuilding exactly in the place and in the way which made us vulnerable, trying to protect large areas with ever-higher walls.

Rolling easements
Rolling easements is a term for a combination of several approaches described in Orrin Pilkey and Rob Young’ The Rising Sea. Shorefront property owners are compensated while the inland migration of wetlands, beaches and estuaries is facilitated by gradually removing hard structures.

Some of what we think of as “land” would be better thought of as, “sometimes water.” Such places can be sold under different rules than those applied to upland, recognizing that they will be inundated occasionally. Naturalistic environments like beaches, dunes, marshes and riverbank plantings can much more easily survive hurricanes and flooding than rigid concrete and steel; they do this by moving around: new channels might form; dunes might disappear from one place and reform nearby; sand moves but the beach remains a beach; many floodplain plant species can regrow right where they fell over. Moving rigid infrastructure, even the Rockaway highrises, upland and inland would help protect it, letting natural systems operate in the most flood-prone areas.

Porous and flexible features
Integrating porous features in pavements and seawalls lets water move through the urban fabric, allowing helpful bacteria to remove some pollutants, creating healthier soil for supporting plants. Rough-textured underwater structures support marine organisms, many of which also filter water. Infrastructure which can float, flex or has inflatable/collapsible elements could temporarily adapt to changing water levels. NYC is already taking an admirable number of steps in this direction.

As if life depends on it Rebuild NYC, including the waterfront, as if life depends on it. NY Harbor is not only the place where oil tankers bring in gasoline. It is also an estuary, cleaner than it has been in a long while, but with much smaller populations of fish, shellfish and marine mammals than it once had. There used to be a strong fishing industry here. Loss of habitat is a key reason for the decline of life in the harbor. While rebuilding the water’s edge from Sandy’s impact, habitat in the estuary and the surrounding upland buffers can be strengthened and expanded.

Is there a single, spectacular solution, which will make us safe from future superstorms? Probably not. But there must be thousands of ways to make healthier, safer cities that work better. In being thoughtful about the next steps, choosing actions based on seven generations into the future as the Iroquois did, learning from what worked and failed during this and other big storms, there is every possibility that our civilization can continue thrive in this precious place which we know as home.

Now that Sandy has caught our collective attention with a real-life demonstration of NYC’s vulnerability and capacity for response and recovery, let’s teach ourselves many ways to live more wisely in a changing environment.

Marcha Johnson, PhD, is a Brooklyn landscape architect, ecological restorationist and adjunct professor, specialized in the ecology of urban waterfronts.

We Need to Retreat From the Beach

Aerial pictures of North Carolina’s coast, after superstorm Sandy devastated the area. Photo courtesy of: © Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines (PSDS) / WCU

By Orrin H. Pilkey, James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Geology, Duke University
Co-Author with Rob Young of The Rising Sea (Island Press), and mod

As ocean waters warm, the Northeast is likely to face more Sandy-like storms. And as sea levels continue to rise, the surges of these future storms will be higher and even more deadly. We can’t stop these powerful storms. But we can reduce the deaths and damage they cause.

Hurricane Sandy’s immense power, which destroyed or damaged thousands of homes, actually pushed the footprints of the barrier islands along the South Shore of Long Island and the Jersey Shore landward as the storm carried precious beach sand out to deep waters or swept it across the islands. This process of barrier-island migration toward the mainland has gone on for 10,000 years.

Yet there is already a push to rebuild homes close to the beach and bring back the shorelines to where they were. The federal government encourages this: there will be billions available to replace roads, pipelines and other infrastructure and to clean up storm debris, provide security and emergency housing. Claims to the National Flood Insurance Program could reach $7 billion. And the Army Corps of Engineers will be ready to mobilize its sand-pumping dredges, dump trucks and bulldozers to rebuild beaches washed away time and again.

But this “let’s come back stronger and better” attitude, though empowering, is the wrong approach to the increasing hazard of living close to the rising sea. Disaster will strike again. We should not simply replace all lost property and infrastructure. Instead, we need to take account of rising sea levels, intensifying storms and continuing shoreline erosion.

… We should not simply replace all lost property and infrastructure. Instead, we need to take account of rising sea levels, intensifying storms and continuing shoreline erosion.”
—Orrin H. Pilkey

I understand the temptation to rebuild. My parents’ retirement home, built at 13 feet above sea level, five blocks from the shoreline in Waveland, Miss., was flooded to the ceiling during Hurricane Camille in 1969. They rebuilt it, but the house was completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. (They had died by then.) Even so, rebuilding continued in Waveland. A year after Katrina, one empty Waveland beachfront lot, on which successive houses had been wiped away by Hurricanes Camille and Katrina, was for sale for $800,000.

That is madness. We should strongly discourage the reconstruction of destroyed or badly damaged beachfront homes in New Jersey and New York. Some very valuable property will have to be abandoned to make the community less vulnerable to storm surges. This is tough medicine, to be sure, and taxpayers may be forced to compensate homeowners. But it should save taxpayers money in the long run by ending this cycle of repairing or rebuilding properties in the path of future storms. Surviving buildings and new construction should be elevated on pilings at least two feet above the 100-year flood level to allow future storm overwash to flow underneath. Some buildings should be moved back from the beach.

Respecting the power of these storms is not new. American Indians who occupied barrier islands during the warm months moved to the mainland during the winter storm season. In the early days of European settlement in North America, some communities restricted building to the bay sides of barrier islands to minimize damage. In Colombia and Nigeria, where some people choose to live next to beaches to reduce exposure to malarial mosquitoes, houses are routinely built to be easily moved.

We should also understand that armoring the shoreline with sea walls will not be successful in holding back major storm surges. As experience in New Jersey and elsewhere has shown, sea walls eventually cause the loss of protective beaches. These beaches can be replaced, but only at enormous cost to taxpayers. The 21-mile stretch of beach between Sandy Hook and Barnegat Inlet in New Jersey was replenished between 1999 and 2001 at a cost of $273 million (in 2011 dollars). Future replenishment will depend on finding suitable sand on the continental shelf, where it is hard to find.

And as sea levels rise, replenishment will be required more often. In Wrightsville Beach, N.C., the beach already has been replenished more than 20 times since 1965, at a cost of nearly $54.3 million (in 2011 dollars). Taxpayers in at least three North Carolina communities — Carteret and Dare Counties and North Topsail Beach — have voted down tax increases to pay for these projects in the last dozen years. The attitude was: we shouldn’t have to pay for the beach. We weren’t the ones irresponsible enough to build next to an eroding shoreline.

This is not the time for a solution based purely on engineering. The Army Corps undoubtedly will be heavily involved. But as New Jersey and New York move forward, officials should seek advice from oceanographers, coastal geologists, coastal and construction engineers and others who understand the future of rising seas and their impact on barrier islands.

We need more resilient development, to be sure. But we also need to begin to retreat from the ocean’s edge.

Aerial pictures of New Jersey’s coast, Mantoloking, after superstorm Sandy devastated the area. Photo courtesy of: © Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines (PSDS) / WCU

Originally Published in, The New York Times

The World’s Beaches: A Global Guide To The Science Of The Shoreline
A Book by Orrin H. Pilkey, William J. Neal, James Andrew Graham Cooper And Joseph T. Kelley.

To Birds, Storm Survival Is Only Natural

Photo courtesy of: © Tim Davis


In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the spiteful me-too northeaster, much of the East Coast looked so battered and flooded, so strewed with toppled trees and stripped of dunes and beaches, that many observers feared the worst. Any day now, surely, the wildlife corpses would start showing up, especially birds, for who likelier to pay when a sky turns rogue than the ones who act as if they own it?

Read Full Article, The New York Times