UT researchers part of team to explore Hurricane Sandy’s effects

Klarissa Fitzpatrick

UT scientists are surveying the Long Island and New York coastlines to determine how Hurricane Sandy affected the sea floor. 

John Goff, senior research scientist at Institute for Geophysics at the Jackson School of Geosciences, is the principal investigator of the survey. Goff said the team is focusing on areas of the coast that were previously surveyed to see how and if Hurricane Sandy changed the deposition of sediment on the sea floor. The rapid response survey is in cooperation with scientists from Stony Brook University and Adelphi University.

“Our ultimate goal is to understand the ‘sediment budget’ associated with a storm: Where is the sediment being removed?” Goff said. “Where is it being deposited? How is this movement affecting the long-term health of the protective barrier island system?”

Barrier islands are narrow, offshore islands that separate ocean from bays and estuaries that are present off the New York and Texas coasts, Goff said.

“Barrier islands do a lot to protect inland communities from storm damage, as well as create invaluable wetlands,” Goff said.

Goff and his team obtained funding from the School of Geosciences, with additional funding from the National Science Foundation that enabled the team to collect sediment samples. In total, the survey will cost about $150,000.

“The types of data we are collecting includes multibeam bathymetry, which measures the topography of the sea floor, backscatter, which is like an acoustic photograph of the sea floor and helps us determine sediment types, and physical samples of the sediments,” Goff said.

Beth Christensen, an associate professor at Adelphi University, said she hopes information from the survey will be passed on to urban planners.

“There’s also a strong push for scientific communication in Long Island,” Christensen said. “We’ll be able to tell the planners whether the sand is present, whether it’s moved downstream in the offshore current and we’ll also have a feel for how the beach decays.”

Cassie Browne, graduate student in the School of Geosciences, is keeping an “unofficial record” of the cruise with a blog of the crew’s daily activities on the Institute of Geophysics’ website. She describes the importance of taking sediment samples in determining the effects of the storm. 

“These data on the storm are important because we, as a scientific community, do not understand how large storms affect things such as coastal resources or beaches, or plant and animal habitats offshore and in marsh area,” Browne said. “In order to protect and preserve our beautiful beaches for future generations, we must study how storms change them and figure out how to work with Mother Nature instead of against her.”