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Bluffs of Block Island, Superstorm Sandy Research

Published on April 14, 2015

Bluffs of Block Island, Superstorm Sandy Research

When Superstorm Sandy made landfall in the Northeast on Oct. 29, 2012, it left in its wake extensive erosion along the coast of Block Island, RI. To document the erosion, Bryan Oakley, environmental earth science (EES) professor at Eastern Connecticut State University, and students Mike Manzi and Brandan Sumeersarnauth undertook an evolving research project that culminated in a presentation at a recent meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA), Northeastern Section.

The project originally began in June 2013 as a way to take a photographic inventory of the Block Island coastline—which contains many steep cliffs called “bluffs”—but “it quickly evolved into a larger project,” said Oakley. “We decided to create an online database as a virtual fieldtrip for the bluffs of Block Island.”

Oakley with the help from EES students Samantha Boyle ’15 and Manzi ’15 took approximately 400 photos at GPS points along the Block Island coastline. Using a variety of software, and after a lengthy editing process—in particular from Manzi and Sumeersarnauth ’16—the images can now be viewed through Google Earth for the public and other scientists to reference.

“The bluffs of Block Island represent a world-class exposure of a tectonic end moraine,” said Oakley. “The complex stratigraphy and topography creates a vast array of landforms as the bluffs erode from waves during storms, as well as via surface water and groundwater processes.” An “end moraine” is a deposit of sediment at the margin of an ice sheet; the coastal erosion that has occurred over time on Block Island has exposed the internal stratigraphy (layering) of sediment.

“Our research visually represents the shoreline change from weathering and erosion in an easily accessible and understandable way,” said Manzi and Sumeersarnauth in a joint statement. “The best part of this project is knowing that the information can be used in the future by others doing research in this field, and that the data we collected could lay the groundwork for much more expansive projects to come.”

At the Northeastern GSA Meeting, which occurred in New Hampshire this past March, Manzi and Sumeersarnauth presented a poster describing the findings and techniques of the project. Approximately 1,200 people attended, and “the feedback there, and among my colleagues working in Rhode Island, was extremely positive,” said Oakley.

“Being a part of every step of the scientific process has been very engaging and interesting,” said Manzi and Sumeersarnauth. “From real-world data collection, to data compilation, to seeing the end result, we were involved every step of the way.”

This project was supported by Eastern’s Undergraduate Research Fund and in collaboration with the GSA. “All of this wouldn’t have been possible if not for the great opportunities provided by Eastern’s EES department and faculty,” concluded Manzi and Sumeersarnauth.

Written by Michael Rouleau