Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies

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    Land-Sea Interaction


    The summer field season of the PCCS Land Sea Interaction Program is underway.

    The focus is on offshore research directed by Dr. Graham Giese, who has studied Cape Cod's coastal form and processes for 50 years.

    "Our research explores and measures the movement of material, of sediment, on the coast of outer Cape Cod," explains Giese. "We search for understanding of the causes of that movement - its patterns and changes of pattern in time and space," he added.

    Giese and his researchers study the coast "from Monomoy to Long Point, which is a single, self-contained sedimentary system," consisting of material initially supplied by glaciers which retreated about 15,000 years ago.

    "This coast and its 'land forms' - both terrestrial and marine - have been produced by the interaction of those initial deposits with the sea (its level with respect to the land, its waves and currents - including those produced by tides) and with the wind.

    Results of the 2006 field research season, and coastal measurements of the same shores taken between 1887 and 1889, will define how Cape Cod's outer coast has shifted over the past century.

    As Giese explains, most of this 'movement of material' occurs offshore within 1-2 km of the shoreline, or onshore within 1-2 km of the shoreline.

    "Since we make measurements in the nearshore zone we must use small boats but winter waves prohibit use of these small crafts so our offshore field season is restricted," clarifies Giese. "We began work off Chatham several weeks ago (in a window of good weather) and we will continue work throughout the summer and into the fall - until the first major fall storms," he adds.

    The field work involves a resurvey of the 'Marindin Profiles'. The "Marindin Study" was field research of this coastal system carried out between 1887 and 1889 by Henry L. Marindin of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey.

    In this study, coastal 'profiles' - 229 of them spaced at 300-meter intervals from Chatham to Provincetown - were surveyed from onshore points across the dunes, bluffs, beaches and continued offshore for 1-2 km.

    "It is important for us to resurvey these lines so that we can determine the change between that time and this," explains Giese. "The results tell us how much material moved from one place to another over the 100+ years that have elapsed. By measuring the changes over the entire coastal system, we will calculate how much material moved from one place to another," he adds. This is not known now, because these offshore profiles have never been resurveyed.

    To carry out the resurveys, we use small boats equipped with electronic equipment to determine our location and water depth.

    Cape Cod's coast is constantly on the move. PCCS is conducting this research to improve predictions for the future which will in turn contribute to coastal management. "When the present study is complete, scientists will be able to make better predictions of future changes in coastal form," says Giese.

    In addition to directing PCCS's Land Sea Interaction program, Dr. Giese is heavily involved with the new Cape Cod Bay Ocean Sanctuary & Monitoring Program. "I provide advice and guidance when requested, and we have developed a plan to annually assess (on a town-by-town basis) the change in sustainability of each Town's coastal landform system."

    It is not weather, nor storms, nor any natural process which presents the gravest threat to Cape Cod's SHORES. "The greatest threat to the Cape's coastline is our failure to complete competent long-term planning," warns Giese.

    Will you help support the work of Dr. Giese and the Land Sea Interaction Program?

    For more information, please contact PCCS Communications Coordinator at (508) 487-3622 ext. 103, or by email:


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