WCU shoreline program lands $78,000 to study coastal parks

Less than a month after announcing that the internationally known Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines is moving to Western Carolina University, the new director of the program already has landed a federal grant to study coastal engineering projects in the national park system.

Rob Young

Rob Young

Rob Young, associate professor of geosciences at WCU and director of the PSDS, is recipient of a grant of $78,000 from the National Park Service to create a complete inventory of engineering projects in and around all U.S. coastal parks, including national lakeshores.

“Monitoring the impacts of coastal engineering modifications is an important aspect of understanding the shoreline dynamics of any coastal system. We especially need to develop a better understanding of coastal storm processes and hurricane impacts,” said Young, who has been studying the effects of hurricanes on the shoreline for more than 20 years. “Beach replenishment projects and structures such as seawalls, groins and jetties can have a negative impact on the natural flow of sediment, particularly when the park is located downdrift from the engineering activity.”

The new project is designed to provide a detailed inventory of coastal engineering activities that may have impacted any coastal park, which will arm park service officials with the information needed for proper planning and management of coastal parks, he said. The information also will help scientists and the NPS in the wake of hurricanes or other storms as they attempt to evaluate potential infrastructure damage and whether engineering projects increased the amount of storm damage.

The project is expected to be complete sometime in early 2008. It will expand upon an existing project on beach replenishment work at 13 seashores already completed by the PSDS, which is moving this fall to WCU from its long-time home at Duke University.

The PSDS was founded in 1986 by Orrin H. Pilkey, the James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of the Earth Sciences at Duke. The recently retired Pilkey, a pioneer in the study of American shoreline development policy, is passing the program to Young, a former student of his at Duke.

Young has become known as one of the nation’s leading experts on the science of hurricane impacts and coastal management. He testified before Congress last year on the use of federal money to rebuild in the most-vulnerable coastal areas of the United States, and is frequently called upon by the national news media for commentary on coastal management issues.

Under Young, the PSDS will continue its emphasis on research focusing on beach replenishment and other forms of shoreline stabilization, hazard risk mapping on barrier islands, sedimentary processes on shorefaces, and mitigation of hurricane property damage on barrier islands.

Young has worked on several other projects for the National Park Service, including the monitoring of a federally funded plan to remove two large dams and restore the Elwha River, the largest watershed in Olympic National Park. Though a U.S. Department of the Interior grant, he also is developing a comprehensive manual inventorying the vast variety of geological resources found in the nation’s parks, from Acadia National Park in Maine to Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.

Over the past few years, Young has led students to Cape Lookout National Seashore to investigate coastal changes caused by hurricanes, and has worked with students on trying to solve the mystery of the origin of heath balds – peculiar treeless areas located high in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He has taken students to Channel Islands National Park in California to work on wetland restoration, and has guided students in a project along the Blue Ridge Parkway to establish an environmental management plan for rare mountain wetlands.

For more information on the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, call (828) 227-3822.