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Images: Where the Surf Meets the Turf

An 1,840- foot pier bisects 3,000 feet of beachfront at the Army Corps of Engineers' Field Research Facility in Duck, N.C., where scientists explore coastal processes that affect beaches.

Scientists and divers set up a series of metal-pipe scaffolds at intervals from the beach out into the ocean. Instruments mounted on the scaffolds collect data on currents, waves, seafloor topography, and other phenomena to unravel the complex forces that shape coastal areas. (William Birkemeier. )

Among the specialized equipment at the Army Corps of Engineers' Field Research Facility is a motorized, threewheeled vehicle with a stable platform atop a 35-foot tripod frame. The Coastal Research Amphibious Buggy, or CRAB, can be driven from the beach into the ocean, in wave heights up to six feet, to install and service instruments, to collect sediment samples, or to map the ocean bottom. (William Birkemeier.)

Waves, currents, sand grain sizes, sandbar configurations, water table levels beneath the beach, and other phenomena combine in complex ways, causing very different patterns along the same beach. (Photo by Steve Elgar, Woods Hole Oceanographiuc Institution)