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Open-File Report 2012–1189

Prepared in cooperation with the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management

Massachusetts Shoreline Change Mapping and Analysis Project, 2013 Update

By E. Robert Thieler, Theresa L. Smith, Julia M. Knisel, and Daniel W. Sampson

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (17.9 MB)Abstract

Information on rates and trends of shoreline change can be used to improve the understanding of the underlying causes and potential effects of coastal erosion on coastal populations and infrastructure and can support informed coastal management decisions. In this report, we summarize the changes in the historical positions of the shoreline of the Massachusetts coast for the 165 years from 1844 through 2009. The study area includes the Massachusetts coastal region from Salisbury to Westport, including Cape Cod, as well as Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and the Elizabeth Islands. New statewide shoreline data were developed for approximately 1,804 kilometers (1,121 miles) of shoreline using color aerial orthoimagery from 2008 and 2009 and topographic lidar from 2007.

The shoreline data were integrated with existing historical shoreline data from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) to compute long- (about 150 years) and short-term (about 30 years) rates of shoreline change. A linear regression method was used to calculate long- and short-term rates of shoreline change at 26,510 transects along the Massachusetts coast. In locations where shoreline data were insufficient to use the linear regression method, short-term rates were calculated using an end-point method.

Long-term rates of shoreline change are calculated with (LTw) and without (LTwo) shorelines from the 1970s and 1994 to examine the effect of removing these data on measured rates of change. Regionally averaged rates are used to assess the general characteristics of the two-rate computations, and we find that (1) the rates of change for both LTw and LTwo are essentially the same; (2) including more data slightly reduces the uncertainty of the rate, which is expected as the number of shorelines increases; and (3) the data for the shorelines from the 1970s and 1994 are not outliers with respect to the long-term trend. These findings are true for regional averages, but may not hold at specific transects.

First posted June 24, 2013

For additional information contact:
U.S. Geological Survey
Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center
384 Woods Hole Road
Quissett Campus
Woods Hole, MA 02543
(508) 548–8700

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Suggested citation:

Thieler, E.R., Smith, T.L., Knisel, J.M., and Sampson, D.W., 2013, Massachusetts Shoreline Change Mapping and Analysis Project, 2013 Update: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012–1189, 42 p.,






Historical Shoreline Change Analysis and Interpretation


References Cited

Appendix 1. Historical Shorelines

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