Climate change and sea level rise effects are showing up at Kennedy Space Center
Faculty in the Department of Geological Sciences have been working in partnership with the US Geological Survey and NASA Environmental to assess the progress of coastal erosion at Kennedy Space Center. As a result of this research, NASA has constructed artificial dunes to protect two launch pads from the threat of salt water intrusion. Their work was recently featured in a Reuters article and UF online news “Spotlights” article.
Over the past 5 years, Dr. John Jaeger and Dr. Peter Adams have been studying the progress of coastal erosion at the beach adjacent to Kennedy Space Center, east coast of central Florida.
This research was motivated by major dune erosion near two launch pads following several hurricanes in Fall 2004 (Charley, Frances, Jeanne) and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Six foot high dunes previously provided protection from salt water intrusion, but the reduction in dune size left the launch pads, key components of the NASA space program, at risk.
There are two major effects of climate: sea level rise and an increase in major storm frequency. Sea level rise gradually moves high tide closer to land, and allows storm surge to over top the dune and erode it down. An increase in the frequency of major storms heightens the threat of salt water intrusion to the launch pads.
The major challenge for the UF Geoscientists was to quantify how much change is occurring at the beach. Monthly observations of beach topography were made using high precision GPS techniques, accurate to within 10 cm. This is a unique data set for understanding coastal processes.
Rapid coastal erosion measured by this research caused NASA to instigate an on-going beach nourishment program. The program started with the construction of a secondary artificial dune to protect the two launch pads closest to the shore from salt water intrusion during the next big storm.
Alumnus Dr. Richard McKenzie had a key role in coordinating and interpreting these GPS observations as part of his Ph.D. research project. This project reflects the Department’s collaborative philosophy as numerous graduate students served as field assistants to the team over the five years.
Recent Article in Reuters, “Rising tides threaten Kennedy Space Center”.
It is important to understand how beaches change for economics and policy making. – Dr. Peter Adams