CORVALLIS, Ore. – Beach erosion experts from around the world will gather at Oregon State University July 30 to Aug. 3 for a conference to share information on the mystery of coastal dynamics – and the influence that global climate change may have on our coastlines.
More than 40 scientists from seven countries will spend the week discussing research and management strategies related to a network of beach observation systems called Argus Stations.
Coastal erosion is a problem for more than 70 percent of the shores in the United States, experts say, and rising sea levels will exacerbate the problem. Since more than half of the people in the U.S. live within 50 miles of the ocean, conflicts over erosion and what to do about it are increasing in scope and intensity, said Robert Holman, a professor in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences and an organizer for the event on campus.
The conference at OSU will bring together collaborators for the Argus Program – an international network of researchers who operate monitoring stations around the world to study beach erosion and dynamics. Much of the conference will be technical in nature, Holman said, and focus on the technology that allows the researchers to take hourly measurements and images of beaches around the world, transmit them to OSU’s Coastal Imaging Lab for evaluation, and turn them into new understanding.
The scientists also will discuss new issues in coastal dynamics and management decisions that have been influenced by the science, ranging from coastal development to preparation for inundation from tsunamis and hurricane surges.
“Our knowledge of coastal dynamics was quite limited early on,” Holman said. “We thought that understanding the basic nature of simple fluid mechanics would be enough to allow us to manage our coasts successfully. But nature proved us wrong. We now know through long-term observation that the mixture of sand and waves, at what we call beaches, is rich in complexity and spawns complicated sandbars, rich channels and other characteristics that continually change.”
The Argus Program began as a simple research project developed at OSU’s Coastal Imaging Lab, using a fixed camera on a bluff near Newport, Ore., to systemically monitor that section of the coastline, said Holman, who was principal investigator for the study. It has since evolved into a sophisticated operation involving more than 100 scientists worldwide.
Argus has become an important new tool for coastal zone management in Australia and Europe, with new stations established in England, The Netherlands, Spain, France and Italy. Argus stations also operate in Brazil, New Zealand, Japan and the United States.
The systematic, long-term images taken by Argus instruments have changed the way scientists look at beach processes, and improved the data that coastal managers have for making decisions.
“This is really a case where technology and long-term observations have made a huge difference in how we view the coastline,” Holman said. “We’ve known for a long time that beaches erode in the winter and build up in the summer. But the monthly and even daily changes that take place – from tides, storms, offshore currents, and winds – has been eye-opening.
“It’s more than a curiosity factor for scientists,” he added. “These processes can create deadly rip currents that take lives, they can erode entire beaches and plunge houses down cliffs, they can make boating extremely hazardous – there are numerous implications. Understanding the complexity of these dynamic areas is critical.”