Douglas Isbell Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358/1753


October 30, 1996

Keith Koehler Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, VA (Phone: 757/824-1579) Jennet Robinson NOAA Coastal Services Center, Charleston, SC (Phone: 803/974-6210) RELEASE: 96-221 NASA AND NOAA MAPPING BEACHES TO UNDERSTAND EFFECTS OF COASTAL STORMS A Category 4 hurricane slowly makes its way up the East Coast of the United States, pounding Atlantic beaches for days with heavy surf and higher than normal tides. As the hurricane makes landfall, a 10-foot storm surge crosses the beach. Days later, the tide returns to normal and officials begin to assess the damage from the storm. Powerful storms such as hurricanes can dramatically change the face of the coastline, eroding sand beaches in one area while increasing beach areas in another. Properly assessing the impacts of such storms is an enormous task. Now NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are combining efforts to provide public officials with the tools they need to accurately assess coastal erosion. The goal of the joint project between the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, VA, and NOAA's Coastal Service Center (CSC), Charleston, SC, is to produce a highly detailed baseline map of the beaches between Cape Henlopen, DE, and Charleston, an expanse of more than 560 miles, using airborne laser technology. Federal, state and local agencies have traditionally relied on photographs and spot surveys to assess the changing coastline. While these methods provide much needed data, they do not provide a precise enough account of topographical

changes due to storms for the agencies to conduct fully effective shoreline development planning or beach replenishment programs, according to NASA Wallops principal investigator Bill Krabill. "The use of the NASA instrumentation will provide cost effective and highly accurate mapping of beach erosion in particular, which is of great interest and concern to coastal communities," said John Brock, Coastal Remote Sensing Program Manager with NOAA. "Due to the high human and economic costs associated with flooding and other coastal hazards, this type of information will help to support sustainable beach development and improved coastal management." The survey is being performed with the NASA Airborne Terrain Mapper (ATM) flown on a NOAA Twin Otter aircraft. The ATM collects 3,000 to 5,000 spot elevations per second as the aircraft travels over the beach at approximately 150 feet per second. Using the ATM and a Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite receiver, researchers have been able to survey the beach elevations to an accuracy of four inches. NASA has surveyed the beaches from the low water line to the landward base of the sand dunes. "With the gathering of this baseline data, officials will for the first time have the capability to accurately quantify beach damage from a coastal storm," Krabill said. Once the baseline study is completed and the use of this technology verified, the intent is to turn the technology over to the commercial sector to conduct future mapping for those assessing beach topography, according to Krabill, a researcher in the Observational Science Branch at Wallops. The ATM has previously been used primarily in the measurement of Greenland and ice sheets in the surrounding area. Scientists are mapping these ice sheets to examine response to climatic changes in the Northern Hemisphere. The East Coast beach mapping field work is being conducted in two stages. During October 1996, a preliminary survey was made over a number of critical sections. A complete survey is planned for the summer of 1997. The areas surveyed in October include the coast between Cape Henlopen and Wallops Island; Virginia Beach, VA, to

Oregon Inlet on the Outer Banks of North Carolina; Wrightsville, Top Sail and Myrtle Beaches in North and South Carolina recently hit by Hurricane Fran; as well as Folley and Isle of Palms Beaches north of Charleston. NASA is responsible for the operation of the ATM and the initial processing of the data. Mission planning and the follow-on processing of the survey information and its conversion into a format that can be directly used in Geographic Information Systems will be jointly done by NASA Wallops and CSC. NOAA will take the lead in coordinating with different state and Federal agencies responsible for beach monitoring. The coordination with these agencies will include the organization of supporting beach ground surveys and the dissemination of the resulting airborne survey data base. -end-