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Impact of Human vs Natural Processes: Insights from the North Carolina Shelf following Hurricane Florence
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  • John Walsh,
  • Chris Freeman,
  • Ben Sumners,
  • D. Corbett
John Walsh
University of Rhode Island

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Chris Freeman
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Ben Sumners
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D. Corbett
UNC Coastal Studies Institute
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Many communities along the East and Gulf coasts of the United States are experiencing moderate to severe erosion. Decadal shoreline erosion rates determined by the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management indicate that >65% of the NC shoreline is eroding, with 20% losing shore at ~1 m per year. Chronic long-term erosion and episodic rapid impacts from storms have encouraged most coastal NC communities to conduct beach nourishments for mitigation. One concern is that there is limited knowledge of how offshore sand shoals – often sources for nourishments – are evolving in response to storm conditions and dredging activity. In September 2018, Hurricane Florence impacted southern NC and northern SC, and many communities experienced enhanced erosion. Future offshore sand removal for beach nourishment is inevitable here and elsewhere along the East Coast. A borrow area on the continental shelf seaward of Bogue Inlet (NC) offers an opportunity to see how the seabed is changing as a result of anthropogenic and oceanographic processes. Hurricane Florence made landfall as a Category 1 near Wilmington, NC on the morning of September 14, 2018. Prior to making landfall the storm was a powerful Category 2 hurricane, down from Category 4 status days prior. Hurricane-force winds were experienced over a large region, yielding powerful storm surge and waves over 8 m near the study area. Given the water depths of the ODMDS, seabed reworking was anticipated. The project collected geophysical data and sediment samples over a portion of the ODMDS offshore of Bogue Banks, NC in February 2019. Multibeam bathymetry, backscatter and seismic reflection data were obtained along with 24 sediment samples. These data add to previously collected data over the same area in 2013 and 2018. Grain-size analysis has been completed on all collected samples. Preliminary analysis of the post-hurricane data in comparison to earlier results indicate that the seabed has been reshaped since the last survey in March 2018, likely in response to Hurricane Florence. The broad dome-shape of the ODMDS remains, however, there is conspicuous morphological change. In shallower areas large sand waves (crests oriented roughly N-S, wavelength 20-30 m) differ from earlier mapping. Despite notable reworking, the anthropic signature of dredging in 2013 remains on the seascape.