URI, CRMC to evaluate offshore sand resources for coastal restoration planning

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Bureau of Ocean Energy Management agreement provides $200,000

KINGSTON, R.I. – July 30, 2014 – As part of the federal government’s commitment to help coastal communities recover from Hurricane Sandy, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the state of Rhode Island signed a two-year cooperative agreement this month totaling $200,000 to evaluate offshore sand resources for coastal resilience and restoration planning. The agreement will engage University of Rhode Island scientists, with guidance from the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, in evaluating the potential sand resources available for beach restorations.

“The goal is to identify offshore sand and gravel resources to offset coastal erosion,” said John King, professor of oceanography at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography. “We’re going to map the habitat and the sub-bottom geology of areas that we think have sand resources, and then determine the volume of material available.”

Federal scientists will assist the Rhode Island group in identifying areas to study in order to confirm previously identified resources and locate new ones.

King and URI Professor Emeritus Jon Boothroyd have already identified several areas they want to examine more closely, including a site off Matunuck where sand was deposited in glacial lakes thousands of years ago; areas in Rhode Island Sound and Block Island Sound where intense currents have formed large sheets of sand of unknown depth; and locations near glacial moraines south of Block Island.

“This is the beginning of much needed work to learn if offshore sand resources are a viable option for Rhode Island,” said CRMC Executive Director Grover Fugate. “It will require not only the survey work we hope to conduct, but also environmental studies to determine if this material could be extracted without detriment to the environment and the fishing industry, which depends on these waters and bottom environments. We want to do this work and be prepared in advance of any need created by major storm or sea level rise so that it is done in a thoughtful and reasoned way.”

According to Walter Cruickshank, acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, such activities are essential for reducing potential storm damage to the residents, economies, and infrastructure of Rhode Island’s coastal areas.

This agreement is part of a series of partnerships between the Bureau and coastal Atlantic states using part of the $13.6 million allocated to the ocean energy agency through the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013. Since Hurricane Sandy struck in October 2012, the Bureau has worked with members of the federal government’s Hurricane Sandy Task Force, state coastal planning agencies, state geological surveys and other entities to analyze the needs for coastal restoration and to develop restoration plans.

King said that the last step in the project will be to calculate how much sand is being eroded from Rhode Island beaches and how much sand would be needed to replace what is being lost. The URI scientist warns, however, that the outlook is not promising for protecting beaches over the long term.

“We’re mostly avoiding the inevitable with a delaying action now,” he said. “Our beaches are already moving and migrating landward, and we’re not going to be able to keep all of them going forever.

“The rate of sea level rise is increasing rapidly. There’s a threshold in the system that if sea level rises greater than two millimeters per year, the beaches will start to migrate. And we’re already over that threshold,” King added. “Predictions are that sea level rise is going to reach 1.5 centimeters per year in the future. Over the next few decades, our beaches are in serious trouble.”