‘The technology’s changed:’ Upgraded device helps CCU group in beach erosion research, storm preparation

Grand Strand

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – One Coastal Carolina University marine science professor and his students are using new technology to study beach erosion following Hurricane Isaias.

The new equipment could help local officials in planning for disasters.

Dr. Paul Gayes has been studying the dunes across the South Carolina coast since the eighties. “We’ve been here for quite a long time,” he laughed.

Since then, the technology has upgraded, and now they’re using a light detection and ranging scanner, or LiDAR. It essentially gives a 3D picture of how the beach looks before and after a storm.

“How the beaches are behaving, where the material’s going, and how to better inform the projects, such as renourishment projects,” said Dr. Gayes.

The technology has come a long way since the 1980s and 1990s when Dr. Gayes first started research with CCU.

“That was a series of students and others across the state that would take a rod and a traditional level and they would survey in a number of points across the beach,” he explained.

Dr. Gayes says the new technology could soon help them in predicting what storm response is needed.

There are several different aspects of the beach environment the LiDAR’s lasers pick up. “When a surge comes in, the buildings, the structures, all that is actually in the model and how the flows are interacting,” said Dr. Gayes.

It’s already given them 7.2 billion data points in the pre- and post-Hurricane Isaias surveys of North Myrtle Beach.

It looks at several questions that have to do with dune erosion and storm damage.

“Why is there so much variability along the coast? Some areas are prone to much more erosion and others are relatively stable, so we’ve been looking at those questions,” said Dr. Gayes.

Data from the LiDAR can help cities like North Myrtle Beach prepare hardest hit areas for increased storm surge.

“You’re going to get a pretty good idea of where in the city you might have damage, depending on where the storm comes in,” said City of North Myrtle Beach spokesperson Pat Dowling.

Dr. Gayes says they’re also partnered with Horry County to use the data to help prepare that area for possible storm surge as well.

Statement from Horry County on the LiDAR and renourishment projects

The County is paying Coastal Carolina University for annual beach profiles of the Army Corps beach renourishment project (Reach 3 is from MB state park southern boundary south into Georgetown County). Our project cooperation agreement with the ACOE and the projects’ operation and maintenance manual require these annual surveys to be completed (and possibly after a significant storm) to help keep track of erosion over time — and to help with the planning / timing of the next ACOE renourishment project.” -Kelly Moore, Horry County spokesperson

Dr. Gayes and his students previously used drones to detect erosion patterns ahead of Hurricane Dorian in February.

“The better we can match what our predictive capabilities for how a beach will behave against realities of when storms come in, the more confident we are when we have a storm of this type or that type that some of the predictions can get ever more accurate and ever more helpful to local management,” he said.

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