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Estuarine Physical Response to Storms


The Nation’s coast is a complex system comprised of beaches, dunes, barrier islands, wetlands, and estuaries. These natural coastal systems provide critical benefits and services, and can mitigate the impact of storms, erosion, and sea-level rise on our coastal communities. Coastal communities landward of barrier islands are protected from high water levels experienced during storm events by both the barrier island itself as well as the dampening effect of adjacent estuaries and wetlands.  In late October 2012, waves and storm surge resulting from Hurricane Sandy impacted coastal areas from North Carolina to New York and Massachusetts. Due to the intensity of the storm, the post-Sandy coastal systems may be different than that which existed prior to the storm (Buxton and others, 2013).

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, over 160 USGS personnel from offices across the Nation were deployed to collect essential environmental data. Lidar surveys from North Carolina to New York documented storm impacts to coastal barriers, providing a baseline to assess vulnerability of the reconfigured coast. However, a thorough investigation of the geology and hydrology of the affected coastal systems is essential to provide a complete picture of the post-storm coastal environment. This new understanding will help us assess the potential vulnerability to future storms and also to inform decisions on recovery and rebuilding.

The U.S. Geological Survey is engaged in a variety of research activities that aim to understand the physical processes and resiliency of the estuaries and wetlands that were impacted by Hurricane Sandy, including the estuarine environments of  Barnegat, Chincoteague, and Jamaica Bays.  Hurricane Sandy greatly modified the morphology of these estuaries, and it is critical to assess how those changes, and future storm impacts, may affect:

The Estuarine Physical Response to Storms Project will contribute to the body of knowledge of estuarine and wetland processes by documenting and measuring the response of Barnegat, Chincoteague, and Jamaica Bays to Hurricane Sandy as well as past storm events. Research tasks that will be completed in 2014-2015 include the following:

The collection and analysis of oceanographic time-series and sediment-related data in order to construct a picture of estuarine physical processes and past change resulting from Hurricane Sandy, other storm events, and fair weather conditions.

Use data to model historical physical estuarine processes with the intent of applying the modeling tools to evaluate future scenarios of change.

A number of related projects will benefit from these new research efforts.


Buxton, H.T., Andersen, M.E., Focazio, M.J., Haines, J.W., Hainly, R.A., Hippe, D.J., and Sugarbaker, L.J., 2013, Meeting the science needs of the Nation in the wake of Hurricane Sandy – A U.S. Geological Survey science plan for support of restoration and recovery: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1390, 26 p.,

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