2007 GSA Denver Annual Meeting (28–31 October 2007)
Paper No. 33-12
Presentation Time: 5:10 PM-5:30 PM

IS THERE A DOWNSIDE TO MAPPING COASTAL HAZARDS?

YOUNG, Robert S., Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC 28723, ryoung@wcu.edu and BUSH, David M., Department of Geosciences, University of West Georgia, Carrollton, GA 30118

As sea-level rise induced coastal vulnerability increases, many scientists, engineers, and government agencies are exploring new ways to map and respond to coastal hazards. These efforts include: 1) documentation of past storm impacts; 2) modeling potential storm inundation and storm-induced erosion; and 3) geomorphology-based assessments of potential storm impacts. Clearly, some coastal communities are more vulnerable than others. Low elevation, barrier island communities such as Dauphin Island, AL, and North Topsail Beach, NC, are extremely vulnerable even in small storms. Developing a sound, science-based understanding of the geologic, oceanographic, and meteorological factors that control storm vulnerability is an admirable goal. However, we are concerned about two by-products of actively mapping gradations of coastal hazard vulnerability. First, it is often the case, identifying coastal vulnerability leads coastal communities to seek protection— often in the form of aggressive coastal engineering. A significant portion of the beaches on the US East and Gulf Coasts are engineered to some degree for the primary purpose of reducing vulnerability. Natural beaches are in real danger of extinction as communities pump renourishment sand, build groins and sea walls, and scrape sand to construct artificial dunes. Much of the publicly-owned, recreational beach has become a large, continuous engineering project solely justified by the protection of private property and infrastructure. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers even considers the beach as infrastructure to be maintained as are roads and utilities. The long-term damage that this is inflicting on coastal ecosystems has yet to be adequately documented. Second, we fear that delineating areas of high coastal hazard may mislead some into assuming that other coastal areas may therefore be safe. Coastal geologists and coastal managers must constantly remind the public of the limits on our ability to predict all possible storm-related outcomes at the coast. With the right (or maybe wrong) storm, coming from the right direction, every piece of property in the immediate coastal zone is vulnerable. This is especially true in light of current predictions of more frequent and more intense hurricanes.

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. 97

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