NASA grant supports UCI-led project to remotely monitor changes in beaches and dunes | UCI News

Irvine, California, July 1, 2022 – With a $675,000 grant from NASA, researchers from the University of California, Irvine and the University of Houston are launching a new project focused on remote monitoring of sandy beaches and dunes.

“Beaches represent our first line of defense against damaging coastal storms,” said co-lead researcher Brett Sanders, professor of civil and environmental engineering at UCI. “Sea level rise combined with human-induced sand starvation contributes to beach loss, which in turn amplifies the risk of coastal flooding.”

Sanders noted that data characterizing fluctuations in sand quantity along the coast are difficult to acquire at large scales and with sufficient precision to understand the site-specific processes and factors driving beach loss. .

“Sea level rise is currently several millimeters per year, but beach topography can change by more than a meter in a single month,” he said. “We won’t have good estimates of future flood risk along wave-dominated coasts like those found in Southern California without better data monitoring changes in beach topography.”

Together with Pietro Milillo, UH Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Sanders will develop new observational strategies and techniques for measuring sand beaches and dunes. They will use technologies such as interferometric synthetic aperture radar and lidar, which involves targeting an object with laser light to obtain precise size and distance information.

In a first phase of the project, the team will combine data provided by the German Aerospace Center‘s TanDEM-X and NASA’s ICESat-2 satellites with surface elevation models and lidar observations at four beach/dune sites in Southern California. Researchers will carry out measurements on a monthly and, in some cases, sub-monthly basis for three years.

“Our first goal is to document surface elevation changes in very high resolution and to test whether our satellite approach can match the accuracy we can achieve with proven ground and airborne sensors,” said Milillo, who was previously the project’s associate scientist. at the Department of Earth System Sciences of the UCI. “If successful, we will be able to document surface elevation along all coasts monthly, with better coverage and at lower cost to coastal communities than ever before.”

This work could lead to a better understanding of sand movement; identification of hot spots of sand depletion; and early detection of beach thinning, which could help trigger adaptation efforts.

The NASA-funded project will also include coastal flood risk modeling based on observed transformations in beach topography as well as data characterizing coastal waves, tides, and sea level changes.

“We know that future flood risk is increasing, but it has been difficult to say exactly by how much and when due to the uncertainty of the coastal topography. This work will increase our confidence in flood risk estimates for the next few decades,” Sanders said.

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