More on the Stability of Plum Island (or the instability of Virginia barrier islands)
February 18, 2017 by Chris Hein
Gloucester Point, VA 18 February 2017
Back in the fall, I wrote about why Plum Island is so unique: it doesn’t move. It has been largely robust and stable for thousands of years. That is not so much the case down here in Virginia, where our barrier islands are eroding and/or moving landward on the order of 15 feet per year! That house pictured here (courtesy of Woody Hobbs of VIMS) on Cedar Island in the late 2000s? Long gone. Its pilings are out in deep water: they stayed in the same place, but Cedar Island moved underneath it.
Because of all of the sand delivered to the barrier island from the Merrimack River, large-scale erosion and migration of Plum Island is not at all a problem. Thus, it can be developed with the towns of Newbury and Newburyport, and the dunes, marshes, beaches, and wildlife habitats of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.
My research group recently published a paper in Geology about the erosion and migration of the Virginia barrier islands and the implications for the local marshes: 10% of these marshes have been lost in the last 15o years due to barrier islands moving on top of them, and then the marsh popping out in the surf zone on the front side, eventually to be eroded away.
VIMS also built a very nice website highlighting the results of our work on the Virginia barrier islands (paid for in part by the same National Science Foundation grant that funds the Plum Island Research Project). You should really check it out: Barrier-island migration drives large-scale marsh loss
I think you will come away from this with a whole new perspective on Plum Island, and why it is so different from barrier islands elsewhere in the world. Working down here in Virginia certainly taught me that lesson!
For more, check out these articles from the press down here in Virginia:
Virginia barrier island change featured on WVTF Radio IQ (Blacksburg, VA).
WINA Radio, Charlottesville, VA.