Coastal Processes

The Coastal Processes Program

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Research equipment have been mounted on the aid to navigation at the Albemarle Sound Observing Station.

The overarching goal of the Coastal Processes (CP) Program is to understand and predict the behavior of coastal systems through interdisciplinary research, in order to advance science, address public concerns and support coastal management. Program efforts are focused on four primary fronts: 1) conducting collaborative research on the form, function and evolution of the coast; 2) facilitating interdisciplinary coastal process research in northeastern North Carolina; 3) conducting undergraduate and graduate education; and 4) serving as a scientific advising resource for managers and citizens of the State.

More specifically, the CP Program is presently focused on a few, key research endeavors and related education and outreach efforts. For example, there is much attention in the State and around the world on storm impacts and sea-level rise; CP efforts are largely concentrated on understanding these and related concerns. Furthermore, it is important that objective, relevant research informs policy, management decisions and public and private investments, so collaborations and interactions with interested stakeholders are being fostered. At present, the CP Program is working with scientists from North Carolina and around the world to help define how waves, currents and other processes are shaping the coast.

While research and engagement in northeastern North Carolina are emphasized, ultimately, the CP Program aims to understand coastal processes fundamentally, and therefore, national and international projects and activities are involved. CP research is ongoing along the Southeast U.S., in the Gulf of Mexico, offshore New Zealand, and Antarctica. Areas of research include the following:

Estuarine Seabed and Shoreline Processes

Eroding shoreline

An eroding Pamlico Sound shoreline.

Estuaries are semi-enclosed bodies of water where freshwater mixes with seawater and are critical ecological areas because of their biological productivity and valuable habitat. The Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System is the second largest estuarine in the U.S. It is home to many critical habitats, making these areas invaluable environmentally and economically (e.g., for commercial fishing and tourism).  Shoreline change and seabed sedimentation are important processes influencing estuaries.  This research is aimed at quantifying and understanding estuarine system dynamics, particularly the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System.  MORE INFORMATION

Coastal Storms Impacts and Barrier Island Dynamics

Barrier islands are low-lying, coast-parallel features shaped by ocean processes. The Outer Banks are a stunning example, and storms can provide a powerful reminder of their evolving nature. The character of barrier islands is related to their geologic history, ongoing coastal processes and human activities. Longshore transport, island overwash and inlet-opening are key processes affecting these systems. CP researchers are interested in understanding how barrier island form and change. This knowledge can inform habitat management, resource availability and hazard risks.  MORE INFORMATION

Groundwater-Seawater Interactions

Water lies both below and around the Outer Banks.

Water lies both below and around the Outer Banks.

Groundwater is the largest store of freshwater in temperate latitudes and provides a vital resource for many coastal communities. The discharge and exchange of groundwater to the ocean is important for nutrient inputs and ocean productivity, and many factors affect its cycling, including precipitation, aquifer characteristics, extraction and coastal hydrodynamics. More research is needed to better understand groundwater processes in estuarine and ocean settings.  MORE INFORMATION

Wetland Sedimentation and Change

In more protected shoreline areas, vegetation can thrive along the shoreline; in temperate zones this includes salt marshes and swamp forests, while in the tropics, mangroves are found, This ecologically productive zone provides a key food source for estuarine and ocean food webs. With human development and climate- variations, wetlands are being affected, and this may have cascading influences on marine systems. We are studying wetlands in North Carolina and elsewhere around the world to help understand and manage these changes.  MORE INFORMATION

River-Ocean Interactions and Deltaic Systems

Waipaoa River

The Waipaoa River, New Zealand

Rivers supply water, sediment and nutrients to the oceans, and they have done so over millions of years. Accumulations of these materials are where we find oil and gas to power our societies, and river deltas are some of the most fertile areas of the Earth and home for millions of people. The processes affecting river-ocean interaction are numerous and complex, including fluvial discharge, tidal flows, storm surges and wave conditions. Our lab group has studied these systems for decades, and research on various aspects will continue into the future.  MORE INFORMATION

Latest News
  • Science on the Sound Lecture Video: “Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products as Emerging Pollutants in Coastal Waters”

    On January 26, 2017, The UNC Coastal Studies Institute (UNC CSI) hosted a lecture on pharmaceuticals and personal care products in coastal waters as part of the  “Science on the Sound” lecture series.  This series, held monthly, highlights research on coastal topics and issues in northeast North Carolina.  In January 2017, the program featured Drs. Sid …Read More

  • UNC CSI Scientists Publish Paper on New Approach to Mapping Continental Shelves

    Continental shelves make up only about 8% of the total area covered by the world’s oceans, yet they are some of the most environmentally and economically important regions on Earth. Much of the world’s seafood, and a significant fraction of the world’s energy resources such as oil and gas are found here. National and international …Read More

  • Post-Matthew Beach Monitoring

    Children of today will likely tell their kids about the flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew in eastern North Carolina.  While much of this water rise was induced by excessive rainfall and thus affected areas beyond the shoreline, there were also widespread ocean impacts along the NC coast, including damage from storm surge and shoreline erosion.  …Read More

  • Estuarine Shorelines Mapped in Advance of Hurricane Matthew

    The Coastal Processes program at the UNC Coastal Studies Institute (UNC CSI) has been mapping estuarine shorelines as part of an ongoing research project to better understand our coastline and the processes that shape it, including the effects of storm events.  While many areas along the North Carolina coast are experiencing erosion, one area of …Read More

  • Wizard Training for Sonar Secrets at CSI

    It is Halloween season, and there’s no better time to learn the spells and secrets of wizards.  On October 3rd and 4th, curious scientists and students gathered at the UNC Coastal Studies Institute to become competent users of SonarWiz, a sophisticated and sneaky software for collecting and processing marine geophysical data.  Under the cover of …Read More