ambience: Ocean waves, wind
It may look like an ordinary beach to you, but to the scientists and engineers who study the coastline, it’s like playing three-dimensional chess with the forces of nature. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
“We study the coast and do research into the science of the shoreline, particularly the interaction of the water and the sand — so the waves, the currents, the tides that affect the coast and how the beach responds.”
Bill Birkemeier is director of the Army Corps of Engineers Field Research Facility on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
“The coast is heavily populated around this country. Itâ€™s undergoing a lot of development right now and has been for some time. Itâ€™s a dynamic area. Itâ€™s not well understood. The things weâ€™re interested in have not been studied well elsewhere, and for us to make decisions about the coast, we have to understand how the coast operates.”
The day I visited the Field Research station, there was a 40-mile an hour wind blowing and fifteen to twenty foot waves.
“Most of our visitors come in the summer, and theyâ€™re never here during the winter storm times. And they donâ€™t see the terrific changes that the beach goes through while theyâ€™re not here. In fact, today weâ€™re blowinâ€™ a gale. We got a classic Norâ€™easter going, and we expect the beach to respond. And the beach goes through a series of changes where sand erodes off the beach, moves offshore, and then moves back. Weâ€™re interested in that process how much sand moves, when does it move, under what conditions, how does a hurricane impact the coast; whatâ€™s the long-term effect of those kinds of things, and thatâ€™s what weâ€™re very interested in.”
We’ll hear how Bill Burkemeier and his colleagues attempt to answer these questions in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.