Tag: 2015-16 El Niño

USGS study tracks West Coast El Niño erosion

Some of the biggest waves on record took a toll on beaches

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Santa Monica beach during a break from the El Niño storms of 2015-2016. @bberwyn photo.

The  2015-16 El Niño may have been a bust as far as precipitation in California, but it still ended up as one of the strongest episodes of the last 145 years, according to U.S. Geological Survey scientists who studied erosion along the West Coast.

They found that, on average, erosion was  76 percent above normal, with most beaches in California eroded beyond historical extremes. If, as some research suggests, El Niños become stronger in a warming climate, then the West Coast, with its 25 million inhabitants, will become increasingly vulnerable to coastal hazards.

The study covered seasonal changes at 29 beaches from Washington to Southern California. They used 3-D maps and aerial lidar imaging, GPS topographic surveys, and direct measurements of sand levels, combined with wave and water level data to measure the changes.

Winter beach erosion or the removal and loss of sand from the beach is a normal seasonal process, but the extent of erosion can be more severe during El Niño events than in other years.

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