Improving Coastal Resilience by Studying Dunes

A team co-led by Associate Professor Christopher Hein of William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) has won a three-year, $687,850 federal grant to study how natural and constructed dunes respond when impacted by coastal storms and rising seas.

According to VIMS, their goal is to provide resource managers with knowledge and tools to help make the U.S. coastline more resilient.

The grant is one of six awarded nationwide by NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, with an anticipated total of $4.4 million distributed during the next 3 years. More than 30 organizations will use the funds to study how natural, artificial, and restored coastal habitats could reduce the effects of storms, flooding, and sea-level rise.

Hurricanes cost U.S. mainland communities nearly $50 billion in losses in 2018 alone.

Joining Hein on the multi-institutional research team are Julie Zinnert of Virginia Commonwealth University and Nicholas Cohn of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, along with a group of ERDC collaborators.

“Sand dunes are the first line of defense against storm waves and flooding,” said Hein. “They occur naturally along many coasts, and if degraded or absent, coastal localities build them for protection. Our project will determine the trade-offs between natural and constructed dunes to inform coastal-management decisions.”

Hein, Cohn and Zinnert will use a suite of tools to compare and contrast the dynamics of natural and constructed dunes. Their research will focus on the well-studied dunes of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Field Research Facility in Duck, North Carolina, with forays to other dune fields along the Outer Banks of N.C. and Virginia.

Their results will be applicable to coastal dune systems worldwide.

 

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