Building a Better Dune

As the destructive force of Hurricane Sandy demonstrated, all sand dunes are not created equal. But as coastal communities start to rebuild their defenses for the next storm, they're trying to close the gap with Mother Nature.

1 minute read

February 17, 2013, 9:00 AM PST

By Jonathan Nettler @nettsj


Hurricane Sandy made the value of natural defenses much more apparent to coastal communities throughout the Northeast. According to Katie Barnett, a specialist with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, "The areas that had natural stable dune systems are the areas that survived the best. The areas that didn't have dune systems are the areas that really got wiped out."

Adam Cole looks at the ways that scientists and officials like Barnett are trying to improve the strength of man-made dunes. Take old Christmas Trees, for example. "The trees' needles and branches will trap windborne sand and serve as a foundation for new dunes." However, notes Cole, "[p]iles of sand — even those anchored by Christmas trees — will erode much faster than natural dunes."

"Natural dunes are strong, but they take a long time to grow."

"I would say ... a decade," says Norbert Psuty, a retired professor from Rutgers University.

"You might have to wait until 2023 for your dune system to fully recover from Sandy," adds Cole. But, "Island Beach State Park Manager Ray Bukowski says they don't have that kind of time."

"We can't sit and hope a dune gets re-formed here," Bukowski says. "We've got to jump-start the dune and let it start doing its thing."

Friday, February 15, 2013 in NPR

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