Beach Erosion

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Beach Erosion

By | Jan. 2002
Page 1 of 8
. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the 208-foot tall landmark was just hauled more than a quarter-mile back from its former perch, where it was threatened by the encroaching sea. Coastal erosion chewed away about 1,300 feet of beach, bringing the waves to within 150 feet of the 4,800-ton sentinel. When the light was erected in 1870, it stood about 1,500 feet back from the waves. The lighthouse, on the Outer Banks, North Carolina's long barrier beach, was built to warn ships from waters called "the graveyard of the Atlantic." Ironically, the move should serve as a warning about the growing problem of coastal erosion. Erosion is not just plaguing the Outer Banks. Coastal residents up and down the United States are worrying about undermined cliffs, disappearing beaches, and the occasional dwelling diving into the briny. Beaches are constantly moving, building up here and eroding there, in response to waves, winds, storms and relative sea level rise. Yet when commoners like you and me, and celebs like Steven Spielberg, build along the beach in places like Southampton, N. Y., we don't always consider erosion. After all, real-estate transactions are seldom closed during hurricanes or northeasters, which cause the most dramatic damage to beaches. Yet Southampton, like all the barrier beaches that protect land from the sea, is vulnerable to obliteration by the very factor that makes it so glamorous: the sea. And the problem is increasing because the sea is rising after centuries of relatively slow rise, and scientists anticipate that the rate of rise will continue to increase in the next century. Land, in many places, is also slowly sinking. The result is a loss of sand that places the occasional beachside home inconveniently near -- or in -- the water. Still, erosion cuts in two directions. Without the process of erosion, we would not have the beaches, dunes, barrier beaches, and the highly productive bays and estuaries that owe their very existence to the presence of...