Hurricane Gustav made landfall on September 1, 2008, near Cocodrie, Louisiana, as a category 2 storm, with maximum sustained winds near 170 km/hr. Hurricane-force winds, with speeds in excess of 119 km/hr, extended along 270 km of the Louisiana coastline, from Marsh Island to the central barrier islands. Tropical-storm-force winds (speeds > 63 km/hr) were felt across the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama. Within this area of high wind and associated storm surge and waves lie the Mississippi barrier islands of West Ship, East Ship, Horn, and Petit Bois, part of the National Park Service (NPS) Gulf Islands National Seashore (GUIS).
These east-west trending islands form a barrier between the Mississippi Sound to the north and the Gulf of Mexico to the south. The islands are generally less than 1 km wide with dune elevations ranging generally between 2 and 3 m, but reaching 6 m on Horn Island. The interaction of waves and currents with the low, sandy beaches forces a range of dynamic responses, such as dune erosion, overwash deposition, spit elongation, and island breaching. The passage of strong hurricanes (such as Camille in 1969 and Katrina in 2005), combined with a background signal of long-term shoreline retreat, has caused significant coastal changes on the Mississippi barrier islands, presenting management challenges for State and Federal officials, including NPS resource managers.
At the request of the NPS, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has processed, analyzed, and interpreted pre- and post-Hurricane-Gustav lidar topographic data for West Ship, East Ship, Horn, and Petit Bois. These data and analyses can be used to better assess the storm vulnerability of portions of GUIS by characterizing the magnitude and spatial variability of hurricane-induced coastal changes, such as shoreline retreat, dune erosion, and beach volume change. This information will provide park managers with a greater understanding of the long-term evolution of these islands, which are frequently impacted by coastal storms. The purpose of this report is to summarize the methods used and observations made during a study of the effects of Hurricane Gustav on the coastal morphology of four island in GUIS.