The coastline of the United States features some of the most popular tourist and recreational destinations in the world and is the site of intense residential, commercial, and industrial development. The coastal zone also has extensive and pristine natural areas, with diverse ecosystems providing essential habitat and resources that support wildlife, fish, and human use. Coastal erosion is a widespread process along most open-ocean shores of the United States that affects both developed and natural coastlines. As the coast changes, there are a wide range of ways that change can affect coastal communities, habitats, and the physical characteristics of the coast?including beach erosion, shoreline retreat, land loss, and damage to infrastructure. Global climate change will likely increase the rate of coastal change. A recent study of the U.S. Mid-Atlantic coast, for example, found that it is virtually certain that sandy beaches will erode faster in the future as sea level rises because of climate change.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is responsible for conducting research on coastal change hazards, understanding the processes that cause coastal change, and developing models to predict future change. To understand and adapt to shoreline change, accurate information regarding the past and present configurations of the shoreline is essential. A comprehensive, nationally consistent analysis of shoreline movement is needed. To meet this national need, the USGS is conducting an analysis of historical shoreline changes along open-ocean coasts of the conterminous United States and parts of Alaska and Hawaii, as well as the coasts of the Great Lakes.