Barrier-island and estuarine-wetland physical-change assessment after Hurricane Sandy

Open-File Report 2017-1157
By: , and 



The Nation’s eastern coast is fringed by beaches, dunes, barrier islands, wetlands, and bluffs. These natural coastal barriers provide critical benefits and services, and can mitigate the impact of storms, erosion, and sea-level rise on our coastal communities. Waves and storm surge resulting from Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall along the New Jersey coast on October 29, 2012, impacted the U.S. coastline from North Carolina to Massachusetts, including Assateague Island, Maryland and Virginia, and the Delmarva coastal system. The storm impacts included changes in topography, coastal morphology, geology, hydrology, environmental quality, and ecosystems.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, light detection and ranging (lidar) surveys from North Carolina to New York documented storm impacts to coastal barriers, providing a baseline to assess vulnerability of the reconfigured coast. The focus of much of the existing coastal change assessment is along the ocean-facing coastline; however, much of the coastline affected by Hurricane Sandy includes the estuarine-facing coastlines of barrier-island systems. Specifically, the wetland and back-barrier shorelines experienced substantial change as a result of wave action and storm surge that occurred during Hurricane Sandy (see also USGS photograph, Assessing physical shoreline and wetland change (land loss as well as land gains) can help to determine the resiliency of wetland systems that protect adjacent habitat, shorelines, and communities.

To address storm impacts to wetlands, a vulnerability assessment should describe both long-term (for example, several decades) and short-term (for example, Sandy’s landfall) extent and character of the interior wetlands and the back-barrier-shoreline changes. The objective of this report is to describe several new wetland vulnerability assessments based on the detailed physical changes estimated from observations. The scope includes understanding changes caused by both short- and long-term processes using both remotely sensed and in situ observations to characterize changes to the wetland in terms of accretion/expansion and erosion/contraction. Accretion may be due to net vertical and (or) horizontal deposition, including estuarine-shoreline change due to overwash. Wetland erosion may be due to elevated waves and water levels in the estuary itself. We included additional information based on wave runup and storm-surge elevations based on models and elevation data. We then developed a predictive assessment for wetland vulnerability that describes the likelihood of changes of the estuarine shoreline and the landward extent of sand overwash driven by processes occurring on the ocean-facing shoreline. This assessment is intended to be linked to the beach and dune vulnerability assessments that have been developed previously.

Suggested Citation

Plant, N.G., Smith, K.E.L., Passeri, D.L., Smith, C.G., and Bernier, J.C., 2018, Barrier-island and estuarine-wetland physical-change assessment after Hurricane Sandy: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2017–1157, 36 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Results 
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions 
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1. BN Models
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Barrier-island and estuarine-wetland physical-change assessment after Hurricane Sandy
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2017-1157
DOI 10.3133/ofr20171157
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center
Description viii, 36 p.
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details