Barrier Evolution and Sediment Sources

Plum Island from R/V Connecticut

Overview

Natural depletion of terrestrial sediment, combined with human modifications of river systems, have greatly reduced sediment supply to coasts around the world. This has left barrier islands, and the human populations and natural ecologies they support, especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change and accelerated sea-level rise. We are investigating the fundamental coastal processes (sea-level change, sediment supply, waves, tides) on barrier formation, specifically focused on the natural and anthropogenic influences on the variable contributions from fluvial and shelf sediment sources to barrier-island / backbarrier systems over time. In this manner, we hope to better understand the threshold rates of sea-level change and sediment supply for barrier stability, as well as the human impacts on these barriers.

 

Current Studies

Backbarrier sedimentation, inlet responses, and barrier development

Thickness map of backbarrier sediments in the Plum Island barrier system interpolated from stratigraphic data from ~200 sediment cores across the barrier, marshes and tidal flats of Plum Island.

Overview: This study builds upon our published investigations of the evolutionary history of the Plum Island (MA) barrier system. We are using a series of core logs collected along the barriers, marshes, and tidal channels of that barrier to construct digital terrain models of individual stratigraphic facies. "Backstripping” of the sediment surface to various time periods using average marsh and backbarrier sediment accumulation rates allows for the determination of paleo-tidal prisms. Combined with hydrodynamic modeling of backbarrier processes at various stages of infilling, this study demonstrates the direct impact of backbarrier sedimentation on tidal-inlet closure and barrier-island development. This work has implications for our understanding of the role of backbarrier infilling and changes in tidal prism in the formation of barrier islands and their continued stability in a regime of accelerated sea-level rise.
Collaborators: Duncan FitzGerald (Boston University), Ioannis Georgio (University of New Orleans)

 

Natural and anthropogenic influences on terrestrial and shelf sediment sources to the Plum Island barrier system

Example of the severe erosion occurring along the populated section of Plum Island. Image from 20 March 2010. Erosion has greatly intensified in the past several years; several of the homes in this picture no long exist.

Overview: This project addresses fundamental social- and natural- science questions surrounding coastal erosion that arise in response to insufficient supplies of sediment in a regime of accelerated sea-level rise and enhanced storminess. This will be accomplished through an investigation of the long-term sediment sources, anthropogenic modifications and management strategies for the Merrimack River / Plum Island barrier system. These have undergone wide-ranging human alterations that, combined with complex climate-change impacts, have dramatically reduced fluxes of sediment from both fluvial and nearshore sources, resulting in severe erosion. This study will evaluate the relationship between the millennial-scale record of sediment from the Merrimack River and the stability of Plum Island through the development of an 8000-year record of organic-biomarker proxies to quantify relative changes in the contributions of fluvial and shelf sources of sediment through time. It will then employ historical records and datasets, the correlation of >60 years of coastal-process and shoreline-mapping studies along Plum Island, and the development of down-core geochemical proxy records of anthropogenic impacts on fluvial sediment delivery to the coast, to detail the history of human modifications and evidence of geological responses. Modern shoreline-erosion studies will be used to monitor the short-term (1–2 yrs.) impacts of specific erosional events (storms) and management strategies. This knowledge will then be used to determine the nature and degree to which humans have altered natural sediment supplies and transport pathways and develop feasible sustainable paths for management that balance natural processes, societal needs and constraints, and communities’ monetary and non-monetary valuation of the river, barrier and associated ecosystems. A 53-min PBS-style documentary is being developed as part of this study. This will provide a transparent view into the complex social and scientific interactions which inform the collective decision-making process around coastal erosion.
Collaborators: Liz Canuel (VIMS), Ju-Chin Huang (University of New Hampshire), Peter Rosen (Northeastern University), Gregory Fitzsimons (UMass Lowell), Daniel Coffin (The Electron Project), Porter Hoagland (WHOI), Hauke Kite-Powell (WHOI)
Outreach Website:
 Plum Island Research Project business card

 

Past Studies

The evolution of Plum Island and the Merrimack Embayment in response to changes in sea level and sediment supply

E. Carruthers and N. Cohn collecting a vibracore through the paleo-inlet sequence in central Plum Island in May of 2008.

Overview: We have redefined the evolutionary model for Plum Island (MA), the largest barrier island in the Gulf of Maine, discovering that this barrier developed primarily through spit accretion and elongation, demonstrating the importance of fluvial sediment supply and longshore-sediment transport. As coastal planners come to rely more heavily on two-dimensional quantitative models of cross-shore sediment transport in determining barrier response to sea-level rise, this study reminds us of the complexities of real-world processes that must be accounted. The discovery of a paleo-inlet within Plum Island has illuminated the larger process of backbarrier infilling and its control on barrier and tidal-inlet morphodynamics. Furthermore, this study serves as a proxy for investigating the effects of accelerated sea-level rise on similar barrier systems; that is, the degradation of marshes and enlargement of tidal prisms, leading to the increase in number and size of tidal inlets and attendant barrier erosion.
Collaborators: Duncan FitzGerald (Boston University), Byron Stone (US Geological Survey), Walter Barnhardt (US Geological Survey), Emily Carruthers (Sea Education Association), Allen Gontz (UMass Boston)
Funding Sources: Minerals Management Service; US Geological Survey National Cooperative Mapping Program; USGS Coastal Science Center; USGS Eastern Surface Processes Team; AAPG Grants-in-Aid; AEG Tilford Field Studies Scholarship;GSA Graduate Student Research Grant; BU Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program; Clare Booth Luce Summer Research Fellowship

Processed (top) and interpreted (botton) ground-penetrating radar (GPR) line from across the paleo-Parker Inlet in central Plum Island. Inlet is partially underlain by fluvial channel fill deposits of the lowstand Parker River channel and is overtopped by a southerly-elongating spit. Modified from Hein et al., 2013 (geologic map).

Publications

Please feel free to contact us for pdf copies of any of the following publications.  Note: * - student author

*Fallon, A.R., Hoagland, P., Jin, D., Phalen, B., Fitzsimons, G., Hein, C.J., 2017, Adapting without retreating: Responses to shoreline change on an inlet-associated coastal beach, Coastal Management, v. 45, n. 5, p. 360-383, doi:10.1080/08920753.2017.1345607.

 

*Deaton, C.D., Hein, C.J., Kirwan, M.L., 2017, Barrier-island migration dominates ecogeomorphic feedbacks and drives salt marsh loss along the Virginia Atlantic Coast, USA, Geology, v. 45, no. 2, p. 123-126, doi:10.1130/G38459.1.

Hein, C.J., Fitzsimons, G.G., FitzGerald, D.M., *Fallon, A.R., 2016, Records of migration and ebb-delta breaching at historic and ancient tidal inlets along a river-fed paraglacial barrier island, Journal of Coastal Research, SI 75, p. 228-232.

*Rogers, L.J., Moore, L.J., Goldstein, E.B., Hein, C.J., Lorenzo-Trueba, J., Ashton, A.D., 2015, Anthropogenic controls on overwash deposition: Evidence and consequences, Journal of Geophysical Research - Earth Surface, doi: 10.1002/2015JF003634.

Fallon, A.R., Hein, C.J., Rosen, P.S., Gannon, H.L., 2015. Cyclical shoreline erosion: The impact of a jettied river mouth on the downdrift barrier island, In: Coastal Sediments ’15, Proceedings of the 11th International Symposium on Coastal Engineering and Science of Coastal Sediment Processes.

Hein, C.J., and Stone, B.D., 2014, Ice, water, and wind: A source-to-sink view of the glacial, paraglacial, and coastal sediments and processes that have shaped northeast Massachusetts, In: Thompson, M., Field Trip Guide for the 106th Meeting of the New England Intercollegiate Geological Conference (NEIGC), Wellesley MA, 10 October 2014, Field Trip A5, 38 p.

Hein, C.J., FitzGerald, D.M., Buynevich, I.V., van Heteren, S., Kelley, J.T., 2014, Evolution of paraglacial coasts in response to changes in fluvial sediment supply, Geological Society, London, Special Publication, 388, doi: 10.1144/SP388.15.

Hein, C.J., FitzGerald, D.M., Barnhardt, W.A., Stone, B.D., 2013, Onshore-offshore surficial geologic map of the Newburyport East and northern half of the Ipswich Quadrangles, Massachusetts, Massachusetts Geological Survey, MGS Geologic Map GM 13-01, 3 sheets. VIEW ON ISSUU: Sheet 1  Sheet 2   Sheet 3

Hein, C.J., FitzGerald, D.M., *Carruthers, E.A., Stone, B.D., Barnhardt, W.A., Gontz, A.M., 2012, Refining the model of barrier island formation along a paraglacial coast in the Gulf of Maine, Marine Geology, v. 307-310, p. 40-57.

Hein, C.J., FitzGerald, D.M., Stone, B.D., *Carruthers, E.A., Gontz, A.M., 2011, The role of backbarrier infilling in the formation of barrier island systems, In: Kraus, N.C., and Rosati, J.D. (Eds), Coastal Sediments ’11, Proceedings of the 8th International Symposium on Coastal Engineering and Science of Coastal Sediment Processes, p. 687–690.

Barnhardt, W., Andrews, B., Ackerman, S., Baldwin, W., Hein, C., 2009, High Resolution Geologic Mapping of the Inner Continental Shelf: Cape Ann to Salisbury Beach Massachusetts, U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2007-1373, 50 p.

Hein, C.J., FitzGerald, D., and Barnhardt, W., 2007, Holocene reworking of a sand sheet in the Merrimack Embayment, Western Gulf of Maine, Journal of Coastal Research, SI 50, p. 863-867.

Hein, C.J., FitzGerald, D., Barnhardt, W., 2007, Holocene evolution of the Merrimack Embayment, Northern Massachusetts, interpreted from shallow seismic stratigraphy, In: Kraus, N.C., and Rosati, J.D. (Eds), Coastal Sediments ’07, Proceedings of the 6th International Symposium on Coastal Engineering and Science of Coastal Sediment Processes: New Orleans, LA, 13-17 May, 2007, p. 856-866.

 

Abstracts & Presentations

Links below will bring you to online, downloadable versions of recent ppt presentations or posters. Or, feel free to contact us for pdf copies of any of the following abstracts or their associated presentations or posters.  Note: * - student author

Hein, C.J., *Fallon, A.R., FitzGerald, D.M., Fitzsimons, G., 2016, Records of migration and ebb-delta breaching at historic and ancient tidal inlets along a river-fed paraglacial barrier island, International Coastal Symposium (ICS2016), Sydney, Australia, February 2016. 

*Deaton, C.D., Hein, C.J., Kirwan, M.L., 2015, Barrier island migration, salt marsh loss, and ecogeomorphic feedbacks on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, Geological Society of America Annual Meeting, Baltimore, MD, November, 2015.

*Shawler, J., Hein, C.J., 2015, Multi-Proxy Records of Anthropogenic Impacts on Fluvial Sediment Supply from the Joppa Flats tidal flats, northern MA, Geological Society of America Annual Meeting, Baltimore, MD, November, 2015.

*Fallon, A.R., Hein, C.J., Rosen, P.S., *Gannon, H.L., 2015, Cyclical shoreline erosion: The impact of a jettied river mouth on the downdrift barrier island, Coastal Sediments ’15, San Diego, CA, May, 2015.

Hein, C.J., FitzGerald, D.M., Georgiou, I.Y., Hein, E.A., 2014, INVITED, Coupled Barrier-Backbarrier Dynamics and the Formation and Stability of Barrier-Island Systems, GSA Abs. with Programs, vol. 46, no. 6, abs. 249075.

Hein, C.J. and FitzGerald, D., 2011, The role of backbarrier infilling in the formation of barrier island systems, Coastal Sediments ’11,  2-6 2011, Miami, Florida, USA.

Hein, C.J. and FitzGerald, D., 2011, Barrier evolution in response to inlet closure: An example from a paraglacial barrier system, GSA Abs. with Programs, vol. 43, no 2, p. 24.

Hein, C.J., FitzGerald, D.M., Stone, B.D., *Carruthers, E.A., Gontz, A.M., 2009, The Role of Backbarrier Filling in the Evolution of a Barrier Island System, Eos Transactions, AGU, Fall Meeting Suppl., Abstract EP43A-060.

Hein, C.J., FitzGerald, D.M., *Carruthers, E.A., Stone, B.D., 2009, Tidal Prism Reduction, Backbarrier Infilling, and Inlet Closure: The Formation of the Plum Island, MA Barrier System in Response to Slow Sea-Level Rise, Northeast Shore and Beach Preservation Association Meeting, Woods Hole, MA, 22 September 2009.

Hein, C.J., *Carruthers, E.A., FitzGerald, D.M., Barnhardt, W., Stone, B.D, 2009, Evolution of a Barrier System in Response to Slow Sea Level Rise and Backbarrier Infilling: Plum Island, Massachusetts, American Association of Petroleum Geologists Annual Convention and Exhibition, 9 June 2009.

Hein, C.J., *Carruthers, E.A., FitzGerald, D.M., Barnhardt, W., Stone, B.D, 2009, Development of the Plum Island, MA Barrier System in response to Slow Sea Level Rise. GSA Abs. with Programs, vol. 41, no 3, p. 85.  

*Carruthers, E.A., Hein, C.J., FitzGerald, D., Stone, B.D., *Ellison, M.S., 2008, Redefining the Model of Barrier Island Formation Along a Paraglacial Coast: Plum Island, MA, GSA Abs. with Programs, vol. 40, No. 6, p. 158.

Hein, C.J., FitzGerald, D., Stone, B.D., *Ellison, M.S., *Carruthers, E.A., 2008, Formation and Evolution of a Paraglacial Barrier System: Plum Island, MA, Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Boston, MA, 24 April 2008.

Hein, C.J., FitzGerald, D., Barnhardt, W., 2007, Patterns and Mechanisms in Sediment Transport Processes Inferred from Geophysical and Sedimentological Surveys Offshore of the Merrimack River, Northern Massachusetts, Coastal Sediments ’07: New Orleans, LA, May, 2007.

Hein, C.J., FitzGerald, D., Barnhardt, W., 2007, Holocene reworking of a sand sheet in the Merrimack Embayment, Western Gulf of Maine, International Coastal Symposium 2007: Gold Coast, Australia, 16-20 April, 2007.

Barnhardt, W., Andrews, B., Ackerman, S., Baldwin, W., Hein, C.J., FitzGerald, D., 2007, Geologic framework of the Massachusetts inner continental shelf: Preliminary results of seafloor mapping, GSA Abstracts with Programs, vol. 39, No. 1, p. 81.

Hein, C.J., FitzGerald, D., Barnhardt, W., 2006, Holocene Sedimentological Evolution of the Merrimack River Paleo-Delta; And Speculation for Future Sediment Contributions to the Onshore Barrier System, Association of Engineering Geologists: Annual Conference, Boston, MA, 3 November, 2006.

Hein, C.J., FitzGerald, D., Barnhardt, W., 2006, Reworking of a Submerged Fluviodeltaic sequence in the Merrimack Embayment, Western Gulf of Maine, GSA Abs. with Programs, vol. 38, No. 7, p. 376.

Hein, C.J., FitzGerald, D., Barnhardt, W., 2006, Holocene Sedimentological Evolution of the Merrimack Embayment, Western Gulf of Maine. GSA Abstracts with Programs, vol. 38, No. 2, p. 28.