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Tracking changes to our shoreline
By Connie Grosch / August 24, 2015 /   Loading Disqus...

Sea level in Rhode Island could rise 3 to 5 feet or more within 100 years, according to the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), enough to engulf local waterfronts as we know them today. Natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy seriously damaged homes and businesses along the state’s coast, and experts say it won’t be the last time.

To address the challenges of protecting a changing shoreline, we awarded the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Center (CRC) a grant of $75,000 to help develop the Shoreline Change Special Area Management Plan (Beach SAMP).

The multiyear project focuses on improving coastal resiliency to erosion and flooding caused by storms or sea level rise. The goals are to identify where and how the shoreline is changing, develop new erosion and inundation policies, and provide practical guidance for communities.

“Rhode Island needs to prepare now for a changing coastline,” said Jenny Pereira, our grant programs officer for the environment sector. “This project focuses on the smart, long-term management and protection of our coastline with a coordinated, multi-stakeholder approach.”

Last month, the CRMC, along with the University of Rhode Island Department of Geosciences and Eastern Connecticut State University, offered a free training session in the Modified Emery Method (a.k.a two sticks and a string), a fast and inexpensive method to track changes to the shoreline.


CRMC coastal geologist Janet Freedman, state geologist Dr. Jon Boothroyd, and geoscience professor Dr. Bryan Oakley were on hand to conduct the public event at South Kingstown Town Beach, where the shoreline retreated 23 feet as a result of Sandy.

“And it will happen again in the next storm, and the next storm,” says Dr. Oakley.

On a more sophisticated level, CRMC is using a new modeling system to find the spots most vulnerable to shoreline change, one that combines information on storm surge, waves, sediments, and currents to predict the impacts of sea-level rise and other effects of climate change.

The modeling program, called STORMTOOLS, reveals at-risk areas with the goal of making shorelines, buildings, and infrastructure more durable, so that future storms are not catastrophic. Through the Beach SAMP process, CRC is helping municipalities learn about this tool and incorporate it into their planning.

“Nothing is going to keep the beach from eroding,” says Dr. Boothroyd. “It’s been eroding ever since sea level arrived at its current position at least 2,000 – maybe 3,000 – years ago.”

In addition to the CRMC and CRC, the Beach SAMP partners are the R.I. Sea Grant, the R.I. Geological Survey, the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, and the URI College of the Environment and Life Sciences.

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