Scientists to Study Sea-Level Rise and Shoreline Resilience

The devastation of Hurricane Sandy was due to storm surge. A flood of seawater 13.9 feet high in Lower Manhattan overwhelmed natural and man-made barriers along a coastline already challenged by slowly rising seas. Equivalent gauges at Sandy Hook, New Jersey were carried away by the storm. Water receded a few days later, leaving grim indications of what lays ahead. Storms in the next few decades will continue to push water landward, and enhanced by a rising ocean, their floods will wash over more barrier islands and surge farther inland than at any time in human experience. Sea level in 2100 is projected to be 2.5 to 6 feet higher than today, which means that storms with the devastating flooding power of Sandy can be expected to arrive on the Jersey shore once every 5 years. 

We can't prevent storms or sea-level rise, but we can anticipate their arrival. One way to prepare is to understand the past by embracing the geologist's creed: "Look to the Earth and it will teach you." Sediments beneath the Jersey coast, both onshore and off, contain a long record of shoreline response to Earth's natural cycles. By studying these sediments, geologists know that past sea-level rise has at times moved the shoreline 40 or more miles west of its current position, reaching as far inland as the NJ Turnpike; at other times sea-level fall has drawn the shoreline 80 miles east of where it is today, to as far as the edge of the continental shelf.


We've been funded by the National Science Foundation to uncover the record of these changes in the best way possible - by collecting three-dimensional acoustic images of sediment layers beneath the continental shelf. Like sonograms that reveal the structure of internal organs, these images will show how the shoreline has responded to the ever-changing level of the sea. This website describes the background, methods and goals of our proposed research, and how our planned activity is fully compliant with environmental regulations proven to be effective in protecting the marine environment.

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