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Images: Rising Sea Levels and Moving Shorelines

Breaching the beach: The shoreline of Chatham, Mass., has been battered and reshaped by potent Atlantic winds and waves for centuries. This series of photos shows the barrier beach in 1985 (top), 1986 (middle), and 1995 (bottom), before and after a winter nor’easter created a new inlet. Improved understanding of how shorelines change over time can help coastal managers to better plan development and respond to recurrent or episodic threats. (Top Two: Duncan Fitzgerald, Boston University Bottom: Joseph R. Melanson of skypic.com.)

Scientists from the WHOI Department of Geology and Geophysics (above, and two following photos) are working with colleagues around the world to apply novel techniques to understanding how the shoreline is changing in response to rising sea level. Assistant Scientist Liviu Giosan (tan shirt) and Graduate Student Jonathan Woodruff extract sediments from the beach using a vibracorer. (Tom Kleindinst, WHOI Graphic Services.)

Assistant Scientist Jeff Donnelly holds a core of mud and sediment pulled up from a marsh. (Tom Kleindinst, WHOI Graphic Services.)

Liviu Giosan marks and prepares sediments from a split core for laboratory study. (Tom Kleindinst, WHOI Graphic Services. )

WHOI Associate Scientist Rob Evans (left) works with Engineering Assistant Matthew Gould to test a seafloor electromagnetic surveying instrument. This system is one of many new technologies developed to better map and monitor the coastal system. (Tom Kleindinst, WHOI Graphic Services.)

Researchers used LIDAR instruments to generate this seafloor map of the Piscataqua River inlet between Kittery Point and New Castle Island on the border between New Hampshire and Maine. New imaging techniques are allowing coastal scientists to visualize the geologic framework of the coastline, track major movements of sediment, and project how the shoreline might change with time. (Larry Mayer, University of New Hampshire.)

Storm surges from nor'easters and hurricanes carry sand from the ocean floor and beach face (left) over the dunes and into marshes and lagoons behind the beach (right). Between major storms, the beach builds up while marsh muds and peat slowly cover up the sand layers. Researchers have found that when they take sediment cores from the marsh, they can use the sand overwash layers to find and date intense storms that are not necessarily recorded in history books. (Animation courtesy of Geological Sciences at Brown University)

Trouble in Paradise: This sequence (top, August 12, 1997) shows how the seas advanced and property was destroyed in Floralton Beach, Fla. Vegetation and dune lines were completely wiped away after Hurricane Frances (middle photo, September 8, 2004), leaving shoreline properties directly exposed to coastal surges from Hurricane Jeanne (bottom photo, September 29, 2004). (U.S. Geological Survey.)