Fire Island is the large center island of the outer barrier islands adjacent to the south shore of Long Island, New York.
Fire Island is 31 miles (50 kilometers) long but ranges between only 520 and 1,300 feet (160 and 400 m) wide.
During powerful storms like Hurricane Sandy, waves punch a hole the dune, bringing sand inland.
On Fire Island, elevations on the beach dropped by as much as 10 feet (3.5 m), while inland areas gained about 3 feet (1 m) in height in places, said Hilary Stockdon, a United States Geological Survey (USGS) research oceanographer.
The entire island was flooded and seawater breached the island in three places. Erosion from the surging waters exposed a long-buried shipwreck in the Fire Island National Seashore.
Barrier islands like Fire Island are moving closer to shore to maintain a constant elevation relative to sea level. Barrier islands need to move landward to be able to survive sea level rise, and storms are the drivers for that.
Fire island is a living laboratory for the USGS. Twenty percent is developed, with a community that manipulates and replenishes the natural sand system, and 80 percent is preserved as public land.
The USGS has spent a decade surveying the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coast to learn to predict storm damage. New surveys show 70 percent of the island is vulnerable to overwash, when waves and storm surge come over the protective dune. Only 20 percent of the island was exposed to overwash before Sandy. And the nor’easter that plowed through in early November appeared to further erode the base of the dunes.
Beach erosion, largely due to construction of jetties at the Moriches Inlet, opened naturally by a storm in 1931 and widened September 21, 1938, is described in a report on the geological effects of the Hurricane of 1938.
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