This publication is the first in a planned series, Public Issues in Earth Science, published by the U.S. Geological Survey. Its purpose is to describe the importance of the earth sciences in an issue vital to our society: the deterioration of our ocean and Great Lakes shorelines and wetlands.

The personal effect of this crisis on people living in coastal regions is enormous -- homes are destroyed, savings lost. The effect on coastal communities and recreation and fishing industries is devastating -- businesses are destroyed, resources and jobs lost. The long-term repercussions on Federal, State, and local agencies and the insurance industry can be huge. According to the 1990 census, the most dramatic population growth over the past decade occurred in the coastal States; continuation of this trend will increase the stress on our coastal environments.

In this book, the authors describe our Nation's varied coastal environments and the natural processes and human actions that are constantly modifying them. Ignorance of these processes exacerbates the tragic collisions between people and nature--such as Hurricane Hugo last year in South Carolina, which left thousands homeless and destroyed billions of dollars of property. We are still learning the lesson that Francis Bacon expounded almost four centuries ago: "Nature to be commanded must be obeyed." To obey and command nature, however, we must improve our scientific understanding of its forces and processes; only then can we address the crisis now facing coastal communities.

The earth sciences provide information critical to understanding and resolving this crisis. Through cooperative investigations, the earth-science community can contribute to a better understanding of coasts, their dynamic processes, and their responses to human intervention. As the primary Federal earth-science agency, the U.S. Geological Survey is the lead organization in the collection, interpretation, and dissemination of earth-science data and analyses--critical first steps in helping to resolve the crisis facing our coastal environments and communities.

Dallas L. Peck
Director, 1981-1993

Coasts in Crisis . . . Map of Coastal Erosion . . . Introduction
Maintained by J.M. Watson updated 9.16.97