Coastal and Marine Geology Program
The Coastal and Marine Geology Program for 2000
Coastal and Marine Issues
More than one-half of all Americans live within an hour's drive of an ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, or the Great Lakes. Our coastal oceans are a vital resource for transportation, commerce, and recreation. They provide food, energy, and minerals for the entire Nation; on a global scale, they harbor critical biologic habitats and drive global climate.
Changes within the coastal and marine environment, whether naturally occurring
or human induced, can endanger our quality of life, threaten property, pose risk to fragile environments, and affect livelihoods. Catastrophic events such as hurricanes, earthquakes, landslides, and tsunamis cost the Nation more than $30 billion per year and have serious economic consequences for coastal communities. Wetland loss increases the threat of flooding, decreases water quality, and threatens wildlife. Degraded sea-floor and coastal habitats are failing to support fisheries. Coastal and offshore aquifers are subject to seawater intrusion and nutrient contamination. The coastal oceans have become a repository for sewage, chemicals, and toxics dumped or discharged offshore, or brought downstream by rivers.
All 35 coastal States and the island territories are experiencing coastal erosion and are threatened by the rise in relative sea level; many have replenished eroded beaches at great cost. The management challenge faced by all coastal communities is to balance the competing needs of citizens, government, industry, and the environment.
Sound marine science is critical for making such management decisions.
The goal of the Coastal and Marine Geology Program is to describe the geology of coastal and marine systems. Objective scientific information is critical to ensuring the wise use and protection of the Nation's coastal and offshore resources. By using knowledge of the fundamental geologic processes that create, modify, and maintain coastal and marine systems, program researchers develop models of these systems. The models are then used by scientists, planners, and managers to predict future change, such as the effects of hurricanes, earthquakes, El Niño, or of sea level rise.
USGS scientists study coastal and marine issues at both local and regional scales. Because the marine environment is made up of complex interrelated systems that cross political boundaries, the USGS, in collaboration with other Federal, State, and local agencies, addresses and respond
s to changing national needs and develops and maintains long-term national data bases. Credible data is available to State and local agencies as they consider mitigation strategies and develop land management plans. Our success in these endeavors is being assessed this year by an external review from National Research Council.
Although the program's primary focus is on coastal, estuary, and continental shelf regions, studies encompass the Great Lakes, as well as offshore deep-ocean areas within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Several approaches are taken to accomplish the Program's goals:
1. Fundamental studies improve the understanding of coastal and marine geologic processes. Knowledge gained is broadly applicable to National and International issues.
2. Regional studies increase knowledge of specific coastal and marine geologic systems. Most are conducted within the US EEZ or the Great Lakes, but many systems (such as coral reef status, pollutant transport, earthquake impacts) cross political borders, requiring international collaboration.
3. Catastrophic event studies address the effect that rare or large-magnitude events have on coastal and marine geologic systems. Hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and pollutant or nutrient discharges require rapid response, and a long-term commitment to the acquisition of baseline data is needed.
4. Long-term observations define the time scales and the magnitude of change in geologic systems. Analyses of long-term measurements are essential to distinguish human-induced effects from natural changes. Data from long-term observations provide a range of conditions, including catastrophic and rare events, for use in models.
5. Assessments provide a systematic evaluation of the status of geologic systems or processes. These activities may be undertaken regionally but are leading to national synthesis. The program also provides coastal and marine geologic expertise for national assessments l
ed by other Federal agencies.
New LIDAR mapping technology is enabling the USGS, in partnership with NASA and NOAA,
to better understand shoreline dynamics.
Within the Coastal and Marine Geology Program research has targeted four themes of national importance: Environmental Quality and Preservation, Natural Hazards and Public Safety, Natural Resources, and Information and Technology. Within these broad themes Program activities are focused on the Goals and Objectives developed in the Geologic Division's Science Strategy (USGS Circular 1172).
Environmental Quality and Preservation
Geologic issues influence the health of coastal and marine environments and understanding of geologic processes is a necessary component of efforts to protect and preserve these environments over short and long time-scales. Understanding the most basic elements of ecosystem structure and function, the environmental impacts of climate variability and human activities, and the links between geologic processes and our quality of life are emphasized in the Geologic Division Goals;
Goal 4: Anticipate the environmental impacts of climate variability,
Program projects related to marine pollution and waste disposal, wetlands, coral reefs, marine reserves, and benthic habitats will lead to improved understanding of geologic processes so that natural and man caused changes to the coast, sea floor, and lake floors can be predicted.
Goal 5: Establish the geologic framework for ecosystem structure and function,
Goal 6: Interpret the links between human health and geologic processes, and
Goal 7: Determine the geologic controls on ground-water resources and hazardous waste isolation.
Natural Hazards and Public Safety
Hazards in coastal and offshore regions are both catastrophic (offshore earthquakes, tsunamis, storms, and landslides) and persistent (erosion and sea-level
rise). Understanding the frequency, intensity, distribution and impact of hazards, and the processes from which they result, provides the information needed to assess community risk and susceptibility. Providing the knowledge and tools required to plan for, and respond to, coastal hazards is the focus of:
Goal 1: Conduct geologic hazard assessments for mitigation planning, and
Goal 2: Provide short-term prediction of geologic disasters and rapidly characterize their effects.
Studies of coastal and offshore energy, mineral and water resources provide an understanding of their location, condition, and their suitability for recovery. Studies address the processes of formation and accumulation, and provide information critical to assessing the environmental impacts and economic costs of extraction. Program research under,
Goal 3: Advance the understanding of the Nation's energy and mineral resources in a global geologic, economic, and environmental context, and
includes efforts addressing water resources in coastal aquifers; offshore sand for beach nourishment; minerals such as manganese phosphates and cobalt; and the geologic framework of energy resources including potential offshore resources such as methane gas hydrate.
Goal 7: Determine the geologic controls on ground-water resources and hazardous waste isolation,
Information and Technology
Development of a national assessment and a national source of information about the geologic status of our coastal and marine regions are program priorities. Providing accurate and accessible scientific information is critical to manage and protect marine environments and resources. Systematic mapping of the coast and sea floor, development of comprehensive user-friendly information banks, as well as maintaining and updating instrumentation, technology and facilities enhance all Program efforts and are in support of;
Objective 1: Greatly enhance the public's ability to locate, access, and use Geolo
gic Division Maps and data, and
Objective 3: Effectively transfer the knowledge acquired through Geologic Division science activities.
The Program's 250 scientists and support staff are located at three regional research centers: Menlo Park, CA; St. Petersburg, FL; and Woods Hole, MA. Facilities are co-located with other Federal and academic Geo-Marine institutions to facilitate cooperation and to share expertise and resources.
Our WWW sites can be found at:
St. Petersburg http://coastal.er.usgs.gov
Woods Hole http://woodshole.er.usgs.gov
Menlo Park and Santa Cruz http://walrus.wr.usgs.gov
Locations where USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program research is carried out.