US Geological Survey Online Tool “Sees” Coastal Change Hazards
Waves move sand back and forth every day onto and away from beaches. The thin ribbon of sandy barrier islands and beaches along America’s coastline shifts constantly, especially during hurricanes, nor’easters and other extreme storms. How vulnerable are beaches to hurricanes like Katrina, Ike or Sandy? What did beaches look like 50, 100 or 150 years ago? What might they look like in the future? Since more than 40 percent of the nation’s population lives in coastal counties on both the East and West Coasts, answering questions like these help protect millions of citizens at risk from changing sea level, retreating shorelines and extreme coastal storms.
To help ensure safe and resilient coasts, the US Geological Survey (USGS) has created an online tool that allows anyone to interactively “see” past, present and future hazards. This tool — the USGS Coastal Change Hazards Portal — can aid in decisions that involve emergency preparedness, ecosystem restoration and where and how to develop coastal areas. The tool runs on web browsers, tablets and smartphones, and is designed for a wide-range of audiences from federal agencies to private citizens.
“Our nation’s coastlines are constantly changing landscapes that pose unique management challenges,” said Suzette Kimball, USGS acting director. “This new USGS portal is a one-of-a-kind, credible foundation for making decisions to protect resources, reduce risk and prevent economic losses. Essentially, the portal is an interactive mapping product with layers of information. It’s unique in that it compiles a diverse array of unbiased science to provide a comprehensive picture needed to visualize and understand how coasts behave under various conditions.”
How It Works
One key component of the portal is its ability to explore coastal hazard risks at varied scales, from a local area of interest to a national perspective. This location-specific capability is extremely valuable for planning and preparedness, and for making decisions to build coastal resilience. For example, if a hurricane alert is issued, users can input their city and state to see maps and imagery of potential impacts for a similar storm scenario. If an individual is planning to move to a beach, they can type a location into the portal to view what types of coastal hazards and impacts have occurred nearby. The Coastal Vulnerability Index feature shows the relative susceptibility of the Nation’s coasts to sea-level rise. Resource managers can also make decisions on how best to protect precious ecosystems. These are just a few ways the portal can be utilized.
Watch a short video that demonstrates how a resident in Rodanthe, NC, can use the portal to answer the question: As a long-term resident in this coastal community on the Outer Banks, how much beach erosion is occurring in my community? A range of information is provided, such as historical data, existing publications, satellite imagery, maps and more. This “mashup” of information is possible due to the wide scope of USGS expertise. For example, USGS scientists have completed a national research project that measures and interprets coastline change from the past 150-plus years. By looking to the past, scientists have direct evidence of how diverse shorelines have behaved, thus allowing for more accurate analyses of future change. USGS also investigates coastal change during extreme storms to help understand hazards like severe beach erosion, island overwash or coastal inundation.
The maintenance of an accurate and up-to-date portal relies on relationships with federal agencies and non-governmental organizations. This cooperation includes, for example, incorporation of current forecasts from the National Weather Service along with corresponding coastal change forecasts from USGS, a key partnership that helps in achieving near-real-time predictions of coastal change when hurricanes approach.
Similar collaborations are also necessary to make sure the portal addresses the needs of information users. For example, refuge managers at the US Fish and Wildlife Service will be able to use this tool in combination with many of their own mapping products to develop an appropriate forecast for endangered species and resource management. Managers with the National Park Service can apply these data to evaluate how to reduce or prevent vulnerabilities at specific facilities or cultural resources due to exposure to coastal hazards.
Information provided through the portal also enables state agencies to improve their ability to monitor and assess their coastlines. “The ability to easily locate and access USGS research and data through the new Coastal Change Hazards Portal is of great value for coastal managers,” said Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management Director Bruce Carlisle. “This information directly supports our work with local cities and towns to assess risk and communicate current and future hazards.”
Coastlines are constantly changing landscapes that pose unique management challenges requiring fresh information. The USGS Coastal Change Hazards Portal is designed to be continually updated with the most current catalogues of information and tools that can be used to evaluate risk and inform actions that lead to improved coastal resilience.
The portal will evolve into an even more advanced web tool to forecast shoreline variations and provide managers and planners with information they need to protect resources, reduce risk and prevent economic losses. Future refinements will sharpen information to the highest resolution available and provide capabilities for real-time storm vulnerability assessments.
The USGS Coastal Change Hazards Portal is an internal partnership between the Coastal and Marine Geology Program, which develops the data and understanding to forecast coastal change, and the Center for Integrated Data Analysis, which provides the advanced software development and delivery capabilities to ensure USGS science is available as widely and effectively as possible.
Follow the link below to investigate the coast and learn more about impending hazards: http://marine.usgs.gov/coastalchangehazardsportal. And, preview the YouTube video “Coastal Change Hazards Rodanthe Tutorial.”