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Science and Management


Natural Evolution and Cultural Modifications,
a Synthesis

Natural Resource Report


1Rutgers University
Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences
Sandy Hook Cooperative Research Programs
Highlands, NJ 07732

National Park Service
Gateway National Recreation Area
210 New York Ave
Staten Island, NY 10305

March 2010

U.S. Department of the Interior
National Park Service
Resource Program Center
Fort Collins, Colorado


Introduction and Rationale

Coastal geomorphology is a basic component of the environmental system at the Gateway National Recreation Area. The evolution of the physical characteristics of the coastal system is based in the geologically-recent history of a rising sea level interacting with the sediments occurring on and supplied to portions of the continental shelf (Walker and Coleman, 1987). The product of that interaction and the natural processes drive the continuing development of the ambient coastal morphology with its variety of barrier island forms and the variable dimensions and sequences of beaches and dunes. Further, knowledge of the natural vectors of development, direction, and magnitude of morphological change is an important element in the consideration of any strategy directed at the shepherding of the existing natural and cultural resources in the park (Sherman, et al., 1979). Working within the limits imposed by the natural system and incorporating the myriad of cultural modifications offers an opportunity to address issues of sustainability and resilience in this dynamic area. An understanding of the vectors of the geomorphological evolution and the dimensions of the human modifications provides perspective to the impacts of future management decisions.

This paper is a synthesis of the scientific literature pertaining to the geomorphological evolution of the ocean shoreline of the units of Gateway National Recreation Area (GNRA). It is a description of the studies that have been undertaken within the Park and it also brings together a suite of data that pertain to the environs of the Park, such as the wave climate, the measures of sea-level rise, and some of the storm history. In addition, this paper incorporates aspects of the human manipulation of the Park’s shoreline, both within the confines of the Park and adjacent to the Park. The history of inquiry into the physical processes and the resulting landforms is quite uneven for the several units of Gateway. The Sandy Hook area has been the subject of study for over a century, including Johnson (1919, p. 296) through Psuty, et al. (2009), whereas the remainder of the Gateway ocean shoreline is largely unstudied, or certainly not the subject of continuous inquiry. Information pertaining to components of Gateway has been included in many US Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE) reports (Taney, 1951: through USACOE, 2002) and they are sources of observations and histories of change, especially data regarding storm events and engineering modifications to the shore environment.

In addition to the natural evolution of the coastal system within the boundary of Gateway, there are many human interventions that have altered the processes that create elements of the topography and there are alterations of the forms that exist on-site. The presence of engineering structures, both within and external to the Park, produce positive and negative modifications. Further, episodes of dredging and subsequent discharge of the excavated sediment have adjusted the availability and transport pathways of the local materials. Together, the natural conditions and the human alterations have created the coastal products in Gateway. The results of this combination of processes, sediments, and manipulations are the focus of this paper.


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