Nav: Home

Gulf coast's shifting sands draw attention in erosion control study

May 23, 2001

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- For the past 50 years, erosion on Galveston Island has claimed as much as 10 feet of shoreline a year. It's a problem that's particularly visible on the island's west end, where there is nothing in place to buffer the waves or capture the sand as currents move it along the coastline.

Over the years, officials and homeowners have experimented with different ways of controlling erosion -- installing long tubes filled with sand (or geotubes) between the beach and homes and trucking in sand to replace that lost to erosion.

In a project funded by Texas Sea Grant, Texas A&M University at Galveston's Thomas Ravens is studying the effectiveness of these erosion-control methods as well as how much sand is being lost, how much is being gained and how it's being carried around in offshore water currents.

Ravens said that by first measuring how much sand is being lost and gained on Galveston beaches and how much sand is being transported in water currents, researchers can then use this information to devise the most appropriate control methods for different locations.

"A lot of people think -- perhaps rightly -- that the solution to coastal erosion is beach nourishment, putting more sand on the beach," he said. "But in order to do that, you need to know how much sand you're losing in the first place. The first part of our study will answer that question and allow managers to go in and say how much sand they need to supply to compensate for erosion."

Under normal circumstances, rivers carry sediment to coastal areas, and currents flowing parallel to the coastline distribute the sand to the beaches, replenishing sand lost to erosion. But as humans dam rivers, Ravens said, this sand source is cut off, and the amount of sand making it to the coast is not enough to make up for that lost to erosion.

Meanwhile, global water levels are rising and parts of Galveston Island are sinking because of the pumping out of groundwater, oil and gas, he said. All of this leads to greater erosion rates. Galveston is already at a disadvantage because its beaches are so flat. For every 1-meter rise in water level, Ravens said, Galveston loses 100 meters of beach to the Gulf of Mexico.

"We suffer because our beaches are so flat," he said. "Just a little change in elevation of the water leads to a big change in terms of where the shoreline is because the slopes of the beaches are so low."

Gradually sloping beaches are just one of the factors that distinguish Gulf Coast beaches from those on the East or West coasts, he said. The other is the fine sediments found in the Gulf region. Because of these differences, Ravens said, erosion and sediment transport models developed for the other two coasts are not effective for predicting conditions along the Gulf.

Ravens said the project includes creating sediment transport models and equations that will be specific to the Gulf Coast. People will be able to use these to predict what will happen if, for example, a breakwater or geotubes are installed along Galveston Island.

"This kind of information about exactly what's happening in nature will be very valuable for people whose job is to manage and plan for nature's contingencies," he said.
For more information contact:
Thomas Ravens, Ph.D., Texas Sea Grant Research Scientist,
Office Phone: (409) 740-4465; Email:

Mark Evans, Texas Sea Grant Communications
Office Phone: (979) 862-3770; Email:

The National Sea Grant College Program is a partnership of university, government and industry, focusing on marine research, education and advisory service. The Sea Grant Program is a practical, broad-based effort to promote better understanding and use of marine resources through research, education, extension and information transfer.

National Sea Grant College Program

Related Erosion Articles:

Landscape-scale erosion instabilities in the northern Gabilan Mesa, California
If you ever fly from L.A. to San Francisco, California, you may notice the Gabilan Mesa off to the east as you begin your descent into San Francisco International Airport.
Pasture management and riparian buffers reduce erosion
A 12-year study was completed in Arkansas watersheds.
More than 100 years of flooding and erosion in 1 event
Sara Rathburn of Colorado State University and colleagues have developed an integrated sediment, wood, and organic carbon budget for North St.
Studying midwest soil production, erosion and human impacts
Larsen and colleagues will study Midwest soils where remnants of the native prairie still exist, specifically in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota.
Research assesses impact of soil erosion on land and communities in East Africa
The impact of soil erosion on both the environmental and social well-being of communities in East Africa is to be explored in new research led by the University of Plymouth.
New study shows ocean acidification accelerates erosion of coral reefs
Scientists studying naturally high carbon dioxide coral reefs in Papua New Guinea found that erosion of essential habitat is accelerated in these highly acidified waters, even as coral growth continues to slow.
Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused widespread marsh erosion
Marsh erosion caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill was widespread, a new study of 103 Gulf Coast sites reveals.
New insights on the relationship between erosion and tectonics in the Himalayas
Can processes unfolding at the Earth's surface be strong enough to influence tectonics?
Huge time-lag between erosion and mountain building
An unprecedented record of erosion rates dating back millions of years shows a significant time-lag between tectonic uplift and maximum erosion rates in the Argentine Precordillera mountains.
Beach replenishment helps protect against storm erosion during El Niño
Sand added to three San Diego County beaches in 2012 has partially remained, surviving the large waves of the El Niño winter of 2015-16.

Related Erosion Reading:

Erosion: Changing Earth's Surface (Amazing Science)
by Robin Koontz (Author), Matthew Harrad (Illustrator)

Did you know that rain, waves, wind, snow, and ice can change the shape of Earth’s surface? They can create valleys, sea stacks, caves, and rock arches. Learn about the natural forces of erosion and how they shape the land. View Details

Weathering and Erosion (Science Readers: Content and Literacy)
by Torrey Maloof (Author)

The Earth's surface is always changing. Learn how weathering and erosion constantly reshapes the earth through wind, water, and more! Even people can drastically change the earth's surface. With the help of easy-to-read text and bright, colorful images, this reader simplifies challenging scientific topics while keeping students engaged from cover to cover. This reader also includes instructions for an engaging science activity where students can see what happens when land erodes. A helpful glossary and index are also included for additional support. View Details

Cracking Up: A Story About Erosion (Science Works)
by Jacqui Bailey (Author), Matthew Lilly (Illustrator)

Describes the process of erosion and how water, ice, wind, and sun wear away at Earth's surface. View Details

Erosion (Reading Essentials in Science)
by Virginia Castleman (Author)

Earth is changing every day as a result of erosion, and weather plays a major part. View Details

Erosion and Weathering (Rocks: The Hard Facts)
by Willa Dee (Author)

Discusses the different causes of erosion and weathering, how these phenomena create problems for people, and their role in the rock cycle. View Details

Erosion (Let's Explore Science)
by Shirley Duke (Author)

Examines the different forces of erosion, such as wind, waves, acid rain, and glaciers and explains how those forces affect the topography of the earth. View Details

Soil Erosion and How to Prevent It (Everybody Digs Soil)
by Natalie Hyde (Author)

Looks at the processes of weathering, erosion, and deposition, and how they affect plant and animal life. View Details

Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations
by David R. Montgomery (Author)

Dirt, soil, call it what you want—it's everywhere we go. It is the root of our existence, supporting our feet, our farms, our cities. This fascinating yet disquieting book finds, however, that we are running out of dirt, and it's no laughing matter. An engaging natural and cultural history of soil that sweeps from ancient civilizations to modern times, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations explores the compelling idea that we are—and have long been—using up Earth's soil. Once bare of protective vegetation and exposed to wind and rain, cultivated soils erode bit by bit, slowly enough... View Details

Erosion (Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets)
by Jorie Graham (Author)

From Erosion:


Jorie Graham

. . . . How clean

the mind is,

holy grave. It is this girl

by Piero

della Francesca, unbuttoning

her blue dress,

her mantle of weather,

to go into

labor. Come, we can go in.

It is before

the birth of god. No-one

has risen yet

to the museums, to the assembly

line bodies

and wings to the open air

market. This is

what the living do: go in.

It's a long... View Details

Erosion: How Land Forms, How It Changes (Exploring Science: Earth Science)
by Darlene R. Stille (Author), Farhana Hossain (Illustrator)

Describes the process of erosion, including how the power of wind, water, and glaciers have changed the Earth's surface. Includes information on fossils. View Details

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Peering Deeper Into Space
The past few years have ushered in an explosion of new discoveries about our universe. This hour, TED speakers explore the implications of these advances — and the lingering mysteries of the cosmos. Guests include theoretical physicist Allan Adams, planetary scientist Sara Seager, and astrophysicists Natasha Hurley-Walker and Jedidah Isler.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#461 Adhesives
This week we're discussing glue from two very different times. We speak with Dr. Jianyu Li about his research into a new type of medical adhesive. And Dr. Geeske Langejans explains her work making and investigating Stone Age and Paleolithic glues.