2007 GSA Denver Annual Meeting (28–31 October 2007)
Paper No. 33-4
Presentation Time: 2:30 PM-2:50 PM

IN THE EYE OF A HUMAN HURRICANE: PEA ISLAND AND THE NORTHERN OUTER BANKS OF NORTH CAROLINA

RIGGS, Stanley R., AMES, Dorothea V., CULVER, Stephen J., MALLINSON, David J., CORBETT, D. Reide, and WALSH, J.P., Department of Geological Sciences, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858, riggss@ecu.edu

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, is a severely human-modified barrier island central to an age-old controversy that pits natural barrier island dynamics against the economic development and tourist economy of coastal North Carolina. Located in the center of NC's Outer Banks, Pea Island extends 20 km south from the high energy Oregon Inlet to Rodanthe Village located on a minor cape related to the offshore Wimble Shoals, a Pleistocene rock structure. Pea Island evolved as a classic “simple” inlet- and overwash-dominated barrier island that is now in a state of collapse. The island is a weak link in the chain of beach communities between the Corolla to Nags Head urban area and eight villages that occur south from Rodanthe to Ocracoke.

Oregon Inlet bridge and coastal highway 12 were constructed in the late 1950s to early 60s as critical infrastructure for the economic development of the Outer Banks. Both were built as if the island and adjacent inlet were permanently fixed in time and space. However, 1) Oregon Inlet migrated south leaving the bridge's navigational span useless without dredging, exhuming pilings that caused bridge segments to subside, and leaving the bridge stranded in the inlet; and 2) Pea Island's ocean shoreline receded westward causing ever increasing ocean overwash that severely jeopardizes the road and forces its frequent relocation. These ongoing natural processes have escalated efforts to engineer a “permanent fix in time and space” for both this dynamic island and adjacent inlet with a terminal groin, massive rock revetments, miles of sand bags, proposed twin jetties, “fort-like” constructed dune-ridges, and never-ending beach nourishment efforts. As the coastal system continues to rapidly deteriorate, efforts to “fix” it have reached a fevered pitch. The numerous stakeholders and their conflicting agendas form the eye of a “human hurricane” that dramatically pits short-term economic gain against long-term natural coastal system dynamics.

2007 GSA Denver Annual Meeting (28–31 October 2007)
General Information for this Meeting
Session No. 33
Identifying America’s Most Vulnerable Oceanfront Communities: A Geological Perspective
Colorado Convention Center: 708/710/712
1:30 PM-5:30 PM, Sunday, 28 October 2007

Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Vol. 39, No. 6, p. 95

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