This issue of the Newsletter features an important article on beach erosion, a problem plaguing us at a time when more people are moving to the coast, and the US economy becoming more dependent on commerce in the coastal zone.  As we lose the sand on our beaches, erosion also adversely impacts some of the most diverse ecosystems. What action can be taken to stop the process of erosion?  Can we stop it at all?  How do we fund the efforts?  Please take the time to read this article.  If you live in a coastal region/community, this article is for you.

I would also like to take this opportunity to publicly thank the Woods Hole Group staff for an admirable start to another 20 years of service.  The operations of the US offices have resulted in record signings and delivery on new contracts since January, and we are poised to exceed our business plan for new contract bookings in 2007, an accomplishment also achieved in 2006.  The Saudi office in Riyadh is working on the largest projects the Company has ever undertaken, now in their second year, and there are more contracts in the offing.  None of this would be possible without a first-rate, dedicated staff, one capable of enormous efforts on a sustained basis.  We are lucky enough to have these people at Woods Hole Group, and I am proud to acknowledge their efforts.  Thank you, each and every one.


Dennis Aubrey, President

Environmental Challenges Around the Globe:
What is Woods Hole Group Doing About Them?

It is a rare newspaper or magazine article these days that doesn’t raise some issue related to the environment.  If it is not pollution, it is global warming, loss of biodiversity, or energy costs.  Given the present global focus on environmental issues, Woods Hole Group is pleased to present part one of a two part series focused on the environmental challenges around the globe, and what Woods Hole Group is doing about them.  Although some may view Woods Hole Group as a local consulting company, we have consulted for more than 100 countries, and have ongoing projects in dozens of countries each year.  The scope of our studies leads to actions on global environmental issues.  Our newsletter offers a brief description of what we are doing to improve the quality of life on our planet, for the major threats as we see them:

  • global warming
  • loss of biodiversity
  • fisheries collapse
  • pollution and waste management
  • coastal development
  • energy consumption
  • water supply and quality

Part One
Global Warming: Though global change is a fact of life, and has been since the earth formed some billions of years ago, it is now readily apparent that humans are affecting the climate of the earth on which we live.  Debates of two decades ago have been resolved through sound science on a global scale.  Though uncertainties remain, humans are influencing the climate of the earth.  This global change has both positive and negative impacts on habitability; the news is not all bad.  Negative consequences of global warming include more rapidly rising water levels, possible increase of coastal storm severity, and changing global oceanic circulation patterns that affect how, for instance, western Europe is warmed by the Gulf Stream.  The good news is that some areas may benefit from salem plantlonger growing seasons, from increased precipitation, and other factors.  Steps can be taken now to limit the impacts of climate change, and to help control its rate.

What is Woods Hole Group doing?  Woods Hole Group is active in examining the causes and rates of water level change:  what does the historical record show, and what does the future hold?  We are assisting governments at various levels to plan for climate change, specifically in water level change.  How should a government respond?  What actions need to be taken?  Next we are assisting in reducing carbon emissions under the Clean Development Mechanism, working with various companies to identify ways to reduce emissions and earn marketable energy credits.  From an engineering standpoint, we are active in sustainable coastal zone management and design.  We actively plan, design, and implement sustainable solutions for how to protect coastal resources from water level rise and storm damage. Beach nourishment projects, coastal structures, and wetland habitat restoration projects are examples.

Loss of biodiversity:  The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) defines biodiversity as the variety of life in all its forms, levels, and combinations, including ecosystem, species, and genetic diversity.  The decline in global biodiversity is well documented and wide-spread.  Human effects, both direct and indirect, have led to this loss of biodiversity.  The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, completed in 2005, describes the scope of the problem.  Although biodiversity can be lost naturally, at present the loss of biodiversity is estimated to be 1000 times the natural loss rate, and may move up to 10,000 times that rate.  At least 10% of the mammal, bird, and amphibian species are currently threatened with extinction.  About 12.5% of all plant species are “critically rare.”  The loss of biodiversity, if it continues to increase as some predict, may lead to losses that exceed those found during the massive global extinctions of past geological eras.  Food security, energy security, health, and social relations are all threatened by this loss of biodiversity.

What is Woods Hole Group doing?  For the past decade, Woods Hole Group personnel have been working actively with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and with the United Nations Development Program, UNEP, and the World Bank to address problems of biodiversity.  Much of our work has been involved in project development, in such diverse areas as fisheries (Caspian Sea, Yellow Sea, West Indian Ocean), Large Marine ecosystems (Yellow Sea, Gulf of Guinea, West Indian Ocean), terrestrial/riverine habitats (Caspian Sea, Volta River), and marine biodiversity (Mediterranean Sea,biodiversity West Indian Ocean, Black Sea, etc.).  Key elements in each of these regions have been the recognition and education of the importance of biodiversity, and reductions in stress to reduce the loss of biodiversity in these various ecosystems.

Fisheries collapse:  Partly an element of biodiversity loss but a major issue in itself, the world-wide collapse of fisheries is well acknowledged and documented through various scientific studies.  The lack of a consistent legal regime, effective global agreements, and enforcement measures all mar the move towards sustainable fisheries management.  One study recently published in Science magazine (Worm et al., 2006) predicted the collapse (to less than 10% of historic catches) of all currently fished taxa by 2048.  Some 29% of all fished species had collapsed by 2003, so the trend has begun.  Whether it’s the reduction in Atlantic Cod stocks or decline of Pacific tuna populations, the effects are damaging to the ecosystem and the economy.  This collapse is partly a result of loss of biodiversity, but the trend appears reversible with careful management, including restoration of critical habitats, careful management of fisheries, reduction of pollution, and creation of marine reserves.

What is Woods Hole Group doing?  Woods Hole Group has worked with the Global Environmental Facility in the Yellow Sea, the West Indian Ocean, the Caspian and Black Sea, and the Guinea Current regions of the globe, to address fundamental effects on loss of fisheries.  Through establishment of regional environmental agreements and bodies, with fisheries and biodiversity provisions, the problem can be addressed at an ecosystem scale, rather than through national legislation only across artificial and ecologically meaningless national boundaries.  Woods Hole Group also is actively preparing Environmental Impacts Statements, Reports and Assessments, including fisheries habitat assessments, for various proposed projects in the ocean and coastal zones (e.g., pipelines, LNG facilities, harbor/waterfront improvements, dredging activities) to help ensure that new development is planned and executed in a manner that avoids and minimizes impacts.

Beach Erosion – Call to Action
Beach erosion is plaguing us at a time when people are flocking to the coast (more than 50% of the US population now lives in Coastal Counties), and when the US economy is strongly dependent upon coastlines and waterways (beach-related tourism contributes approximately $257 billion to the national economy1; 67% of our goods and services are delivered via marine transportation2).  Coastline erosion is a natural process that occurs when waves, tides and currents impact the shoreline, removing sand from one location and depositing it elsewhere.  Adding to economic losses, erosion adversely impacts the environment, reducing productivity of beach, dune, and nearshore habitats.  Some of the most diverse ecosystems are disappearing rapidly, including endangered species’ habitat, along the ecotone where the land transitions to the sea.  Americans also enjoy visiting the shorelines, waterways and beaches, all of which are affected by erosion.  These three “E’s,” the Economy, Environment, and Enjoyment are threatened by beach erosion.

A recent example highlighting the diverse impacts of erosion is occurring in Chatham, MA, where the beach was over-washed during a late season nor’easter in April ( CNN Video: Cape shore eroding).  If the new tidal inlet persists, impacts of the erosion will be substantial.  Economically, there is an active fishing fleet in Chatham whose primary access to the ocean is threatened as the eroded sand fills the waterway.  Access to historic cottages on the barrier island is limited, and landward mainland properties previously afforded shelter from direct exposure to ocean waves now can be damaged during the storms.  Some of the habitat for endangered species of shorebirds is lost.  How the community will respond will depend upon whether Mother Nature heals herself, and the availability of funding for solutions.  Of course, this Chatham Breachmost recent example in MA is only a miniature example of the damaging effects of barrier island erosion as compared to the losses along the Gulf Coast, where lives and livelihoods are at risk every day.

There are three options for responding to the retreating coastline:  retreat, armor, and build back the eroded beaches (beach nourishment), which are not mutually exclusive.  Where natural shorelines exist or critical/valuable infrastructure is not threatened, managed retreat is a viable option for responsible coastal zone management planning.  New development along eroding natural coastlines should be carefully managed.  Opportunities to move existing infrastructure back from eroding coasts should be exercised.  Many portions of our already developed coastline offer societal benefits that are too valuable to abandon, though.  Local businesses prosper, real estate taxes are generated that fund local schools, roads, and public infrastructure, and private and corporate tax revenues produce economic benefits nationwide.  In many areas, it is not feasible to retreat from the coastline.  Plus, it’s not what people want.

Where retreat is not feasible, well-managed shore protection strategies are required, including armoring and beach nourishment.  Although armoring (e.g., seawalls) may provide a last line of storm protection for upland infrastructure, armoring does little to maintain beaches.  In fact, armoring alone can exacerbate beach erosion by reducing upland sediment supplies that naturally replenish beaches.  Consequently, even where armoring is viable, there may be a need for beach nourishment as well.

Beach nourishment involves the placement of new sand on beaches to offset historical and ongoing erosion.  It is true that eroded sand is not “lost” from the system, but eroded sand is rarely deposited back on nearshore beaches (often transported to the offshore region or adjacent waterways).  Properly designed and engineered beach nourishment projects have proven effective, and supplemental sand sources are needed to proactively restore beaches.  Engineered beach nourishment projects require an understanding of the prevailing coastal erosion processes on a site-specific basis.  What works at one beach will not necessarily work at another; there is no silver bullet solution; and, there are no new miracle technologies that will manufacture sand.  Engineered beach nourishment projects include a specific quantity of sand, placed along a specific length of beach.  Clear expectations are required for the level of protection the nourishment will provide, and how long the project will last.  In certain cases, coastal structures can be combined with beach nourishment to extend the design life and improve cost-benefit ratios, in a manner that is consistent with environmental regulations.

beachBeach nourishment projects do not follow geopolitical boundaries or property lines.  Instead, well-designed projects must follow natural features for effective sand management.  This planning process depends upon cooperation between property owners, communities, environmental conservation agencies and public-private partnerships.  Potential impacts to coastal resource areas, shellfish and finfish habitats, foraging and nesting shorebirds, and commercial and recreational fishermen, sunbathers, surfers, etc. who enjoy the benefits of the marine resources all must be engaged.  Conflicting local interests can be resolved through open-minded cooperation and consensus-building, united by the common goal to maintain a healthy coastline.

Reliable funding streams also are required for effective shoreline stabilization.  Since beach erosion is not only a problem for the waterfront property owners, both public and private dedicated funds are required.  People who live on the coast must recognize there is a substantial cost for maintaining this luxury.  Coastal communities must also face the facts that government resources must help solve the problem.  Local ad valorem taxes and assessments, bed taxes, beach user fees, and various other funding options must be explored.  There is a role for the state and federal government as well to protect its vested interest in maintaining the coastal infrastructure, and progress through passage of a Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) Bill will help advance the national investment in our beaches and waterways.

Some parts of the country are more proactive than others when investing in the coastline.  Florida’s state initiative, for instance, includes tax revenues from the general state fund that, when matched with federal and local governmental and private funding, can produce up to $100M in a given year in shoreline protection and beach nourishment projects.  This is an appropriate level of investment given the importance of beaches to the Florida economy.  State initiatives in North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, California and elsewhere also produce substantial shoreline restoration efforts.  Where federal benefits are proven, (e.g., many well-known mid-Atlantic beaches) US Army Corps of Engineers funding also may be substantial.

Traditionally, the northeast has not been as proactive with regional efforts to manage shoreline erosion, but the tide is changing.  Building on its beach nourishment experience with various beach nourishment clients since 1986 throughout the US, Woods Hole Group currently is planning new beach nourishment projects in Maine, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, many with government cooperation and cost-sharing.  In Massachusetts, with its more than 1,500 miles of shoreline, a Coastal Hazards Commission was appointed by the Governor to draft recommendations for a 20-year Coastal Infrastructure and Protection Plan.  Early recommendations include prioritizing shorelines in need of nourishment, and pursuing regional offshore borrow sites to provide sand in a cost-effective, environmentally-responsible fashion.  Policy changes won’t be realized immediately in the place where the Pilgrims landed, traditions are strong, and public/private access to the shoreline is challenging; however, steady progress is certain.

Leaders are needed to encourage the nation to embrace the value of our beaches and waterways.  The American Shore & Beach Preservation Association recently encouraged a “Take Your Legislator to the Beach Week,” a call to action for all with an interest in stabilizing and revitalizing the coastline.  Visit the ASBPA website to learn more.  It is an ongoing initiative that requires leadership and grass roots level lobbying for people to work together to invest in the beaches.  Participate in beach clean-up days; talk to your neighbors, colleagues, government officials, and vested stakeholders about gaining their involvement and support.  Your involvement in beach restoration initiatives will produce results that benefit the economy and the environment, and most importantly increase our much-needed enjoyment of our coastline.

Exploration and production operations associated with oil and gas mining are moving further offshore into deeper water.  Drilling operations routinely take place now in water depths over 3,000 ft, and water depth drilling records exceed 10,000 ft.  The prevailing oceanographic conditions in this ultra-deep water environment are severe with large waves, strong currents, and high winds.  Estimatingoil rig environmental design criteria for exploration and production platforms is a common problem.  The resilience and efficiency of offshore structures and operations depends upon development of reliable design criteria; yet, there is uncertainty with characterizing the oceanographic environment in areas lacking site-specific data and experience.  Uncertainty is typically balanced in the engineering process by applying conservative factors of safety; however, overly conservative assumptions can result in extremely expensive design packages that may not be supported by the economics of the oil and gas field.  Likewise, underestimating design criteria can be catastrophic, resulting in unexpected damage to structures, as well as environmental, health, and safety concerns.  Developing reliable and reasonable design criteria is an important topic for a broad variety of maritime applications, and one with which Woods Hole Group has valuable experience.  Major criteria include operational and extremal statistics for winds, waves, and currents used to estimate forces acting on an offshore structure.

Woods Hole Group’s approach to the design problem helps achieve more accurate results, while minimizing uncertainty.  The method is based on understanding the physical processes at work, and separating the different physical processes represented by the data (see flow chart).  A probability distribution function is estimated separately for each physical processes, so that an independent statistical estimate of operational and extreme winds, waves and currents can be obtained.  In deep water, extreme and/or operational current estimates may also be separated for different depth regimes.  The separate estimates are then combined using joint probability of occurrence statistics.  An advantage of this technique is a reduction in the uncertainty of the final estimate since the periods of extrapolation for each process are reduced.  The result is a set of design criteria that avoids being overly conservative, and that make physical sense.  For instance, the set of physical conditions that produce the largest waves and/or surface currents often differ from the conditions that generate the swiftest currents at depth.  Traditional statistical analysis may produce design conditions that assume all processes occur together, which may not be physically possible.  The Woods Hole Group approach helps ensure the design criteria make physical sense, improves the reliability of the statistical estimates, and maintains sensitivity to economic implications.

Our understanding of ocean dynamics is based on observations, theory, and numerical modeling.  Although the science and technology behind these approaches to solving the problem is advancing rapidly, none of the three approaches is sufficient alone.  Theory is based on assumptions; numerical simulations are approximate and based on the existing theory; and flow chartobservations, unfortunately, always are limited by gaps in time and space.  Bridging data gaps in a defensible manner requires knowledge of motion scales and kinematic structure.  Process-oriented analyses for a specific location allows the results to be described in the context of regional features, and provides an improved understanding of regional oceanography.

One major challenge is the insufficient length of time series data used for estimating extreme events.  For example, it is often ‘standard’ practice to use a one-year dataset to estimate characteristics of a 100-year event (i.e., 1% chance of occurring any given year).  The observed data usually represent “typical” events (i.e., those having low amplitude but high probability of occurrence); therefore, extrapolation to larger-amplitude events of much lower probability can be done only when the underlying physical processes are statistically stationary, and if the shape of the probability function can be estimated with confidence.  Analysis of short time series must receive special attention.

Forecasting extremal currents, for example, is difficult because ocean currents can vary on a wide range of time scales, including very long time scales (years to decades or longer in some places).  Consequently, time-series current measurements are unlikely to resolve the full range of natural variability.  Ocean currents are the sum of currents driven by diverse forces, which may have widely differing probabilities of occurrence.  While tidal currents peak on a daily time scale, low frequency currents may have only a few peaks in an annual time series.  Particular care must be used when applying statistical extrapolation techniques to relatively short observational data sets, since just one or two extremes that rise significantly above the rest of the peaks may greatly affect the form of the distribution function, and result in substantial errors when extrapolated to long return periods.

Overall, developing reliable design criteria depends upon strong knowledge of prevailing oceanographic processes, sound science and statistics, and responsible professional judgment.

This year business continues to pick up both in the number of active projects and bids submitted for new projects.  We have submitted proposals in a range of capabilities from real time ADCP systems on exploratory rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and West Africa, for a real time motion monitoring system on a floating production system in Malaysia, precise water depth determination for a deepwater site in the GOM, a long term current profiling mooring at a 2500m site, as well as work for NOAA in the Gulf of Mexico. Work was completed on a platform based measurement system in Trinidad, which provides meteorological, wave and current profile data in real time.  A project for EJIP (Eddy Joint Industry Project) in the Gulf of Mexico is in the final stages of interpretation and report writing. 

A few interesting new field projects this year have taken place in warm climates.  These include a long term 3-mooring deepwater current profiling project, initiated in March, offshore Colombia, current surveys and a mooring in the Mediterranean, and a shallow water current and wave measurement program offshore Trinidad.  Farther north, we are also in the middle of a design criteria study offshore Massachusetts.


Robert Hamilton, Jr. attended the WINDPOWER 2007 Conference and Exhibition, hosted by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). The theme of this year's conference was Growing the Windpower 2007WindEnergy Business and Mr. Hamilton presented a paper titled, Met-ocean Measurements and Seasonal Variability ofthe Wind Profile in Nantucket Sound.  Check out the WINDPOWER 2007 conference website for more details.

Dr. Lee Weishar presented at the Coastal Sediments 07 conference, the theme of which was Coastal Engineering and Science in Cascading Spatial and Temporal Scales. As part of the Marshes and Wetlands technical session, Dr. Weishar presented Effects of Large Scale Morphological Changes to a Back-Bay System.  Hosted by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), this conference was held at the Intercontinental New Orleans from May 13-17, 2007. For more information about the conference, visit the Coastal Sediments 07 conference website.

Kirk Bosma, Leslie Fields and Dr. Lee Weishar presented at The Future of Massachusetts Beaches: Relocate, Nourish or Lose Them – A Workshop on Beach Nourishment, held at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute on May 4, 2007. In addition to presenting, Dr. Weishar also served on the Workshop Planning Committee. Proceedings for this workshop, sponsored by Woods Hole Sea Grant and Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, will be available by late summer. View the full agenda for more information.

David Szabo attended The 100 Year Party on May 1, 2007 at Bistro Vino in Houston as part of OTC week. This event, co-sponsored by Woods Hole Group, brings together representatives from the oil and gas industry in an open forum for social discussion.

Woods Hole Group recently participated in a public forum titled: Natural and Enhanced Attenuation of Nitrogen Contaminated Groundwater and Storm Water – Benefits and Detriments as a  Cleanup Strategy for Nitrogen Impaired Estuaries. Dr. Lee Weishar and Dr. Heidi Clark of Woods Hole Group along with Dr. John Teal and Dr. Susan Peterson of Teal Partners presented the findings of this MassDEP/EPA Region 1 funded research study. The forums took place on April 24-25, 2007 in New Bedford, MA and Harwich, MA. View the public forum announcement for additional information.

Medomak Valley Land TrustGeorge Hampson spoke at The Nature of our Watersheds, a conservation seminar hosted by the Medomak Valley Land Trust in Waldoboro, Maine on April 7, 2007. Mr. Hampson's presentation highlighted the importance of marine animals to our environment. To learn more about the conservation seminar, visit the Medomak Valley Land Trust website.

Look for us in the fall at the following conferences...

ASBPA/GLO Fall Coastal Conference
Caring for the Coast: Protecting, Enhancing, Preserving
October 22-24, Galveston, TX

ERF 2007: Estuarine Research Federation
Science and Management: Observations / Syntheses / Solutions
November 4-8, Providence, RI


Press Releases

Woods Hole Group, Inc. of Massachusetts, USA has teamed with Fuss & O’Neill, Inc. of Connecticut to perform an engineering feasibility study, comprehensive management plan, and environmental impact assessment of Hammonasset Beach for the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Hammonasset Beach State Park is home to Connecticut’s largest swimming beach and campground.  In 2006, 1.8 million people visited the 2.5 mile stretch of beach, which in places is now nearly non-existent during high tide.  Due to severe ongoing erosion and storm damage, this beach has required constant attention and the addition of sand.

Woods Hole Group will recommend the most technically feasible and cost-effective solution with the least amount of environmental impact.  Short- and long-term recommendations will be based on an engineering feasibility study of alternatives to mitigate erosion, including coastal structures, such as groins and revetments, and soft solutions, such as dune reconstruction and beach nourishment.  Historical shoreline change data, newly collected shoreline and wave data, and wave and sediment numerical modeling will be used to assess the design options.  There also is a proactive public outreach component to involve stakeholders in the design process.

Woods Hole Group has been contracted by BP Trinidad and Tobago, LLC (bpTT) to design, build and install a meteorological and oceanographic measurement system on the bpTT Cassia oil and gas production complex, offshore eastern Trinidad.   Woods Hole Group will provide system design, integration, installation, and real time data display along with monthly data monitoring and archiving during the 24-month project. 

The bpTT Cassia Metocean system will consist of two Nortek AWAC Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers arranged to generate a continuous profile of currents through the 90 M water column and measure wave height and direction at the installed location, along with wind, barometric pressure, and temperature/relative humidity sensors.  The systems will be integrated into the Woods Hole Group proprietary Integrated Real Time System (IRMS) to acquire and store all raw data and to display the processed data on the Cassia production complex for operational use in real time.  Through a web based data server application, bpTT and their affiliate offices of BP in Houston will be able to see the real time processed data through any BP web enabled access port.


People on the Move

WOODS HOLE GROUP'S CORPORATE ORGANIZATION KEEPS ON GROWING and we would like to announce developments within our corporate organization:

Peter Markunas and Beth Hays have joined the company as Coastal Engineer and EnvironmentalPete Markunas and Beth Hays Permitting Specialist, respectively. 

Mr. Markunas brings over 35 years of experience in engineering and environmental design, planning, and construction.  For the past twenty years, Mr. Markunas has been a presence in New England, with specific focus on the lower Cape Cod region of Massachusetts.  He has been heavily involved in the protection of shoreline properties, marina design and dredging of piers, boathouses, and boat ramps for municipalities and private interests.

While working with Mr. Markunas for the past 6 years on environmental permitting and client communications, Ms. Hays has cultivated close working relationships with various regulatory agencies and program regulators throughout New England.

Mr. Markunas holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.  Ms. Hays holds an Associates Degree in Applied Science from Paul Smith’s College.

Ned Burger has joined our Delaware field office in the role of Field Engineer. Ned has worked on design, integration, fabrication, set-up, calibration, deployment and maintenance of water quality sensors, current meters, meteorological sensors and remote platforms deployed in Chesapeake Bay and tributaries, including both moored buoys and fixed platforms. He performed this work as a contractual employee for Maryland Department of Natural Resources, NOAA National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) and Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) for several continuous monitoring programs in Maryland and Virginia.

Ned brings 11 years experience in development of field program design, grant proposal writing, budget management, field sampling, data analyses and reporting. He also has over 30 years of small boat ownership, operation and navigation experience.  Ned holds a B.S. in Biology (estuarine ecology) from St. Mary's College of Maryland and a M.A. in Marine Science (physical oceanography and environmental engineering) from College of William and Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science. 


Corporate Highlights

George HampsonAt a ceremony on May 2, 2007, Woods Hole Group marine biologist, George R. Hampson, was awarded the 8th Annual Heritage Award by the Falmouth Historical Society for his perseverance, energy and passionate belief in the importance and value of Falmouth's coastal waters and the need to protect them.

Read the Historical Society Newsletter article here.