We See Seashores Shifting with Satellites

If you’re like us, as soon as the summer Sun is out, you start feeling – well, just beachy, sand you very much. 

Lots of our favorite beaches are inside protected marine areas, which are regulated by governments to keep their ecosystems or cultural heritage intact. If you beachcomb at Cape Cod, swim in the Florida Keys or learn about Hawaiian culture at Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, congrats! You’ve visited a protected marine area.

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But time and tide haven’t been kind to some protected beaches.

Beaches are constantly changing, and science teams are using our 30-year record of Earth images from the NASA/USGS Landsat program to study what’s happening.

Overall, the sum total of sandy beaches has increased a bit over the last 30 years. But time and tide haven’t been as kind to our protected beaches – the team found that more than 1/3 of sandy beaches in protected marine areas have been eroding away.

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Some of these areas were designated to protect vulnerable plant and animal species or connect delicate ecosystems. They are home to humpback whales and sea turtles, reefs and mangroves that protect the land from erosion and natural disasters, and species which are found in only one habitat in the world. Losing land area could upset the balance of these areas and endanger their future.

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Next step: Looking for pearls of wisdom to save the beaches!

Right now, we aren’t sure which beaches are eroding due to natural processes, and which are due to humans – that’s the next step for science teams to investigate. Once we know the causes, we can start working on solutions to save the beaches.

Those 30 years of Landsat data will help scientists find answers to these questions much faster – instead of using airplanes or measuring the beaches by hand, they can use computer programs to rapidly investigate millions of satellite photos spanning many years of change.

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By tracking beaches from space, scientists can help keep our summers sandy for years to come.

And that makes us as happy as clams.

Read the full story HERE.

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