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Open-File Report 2009–1279

Hurricane Gustav: Observations and Analysis of Coastal Change

By Kara S. Doran, Hilary F. Stockdon, Nathaniel G. Plant, Asbury H. Sallenger, Kristy K. Guy, and Katherine A. Serafin

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Understanding storm-induced coastal change and forecasting these changes require knowledge of the physical processes associated with a storm and the geomorphology of the impacted coastline. The primary physical processes of interest are the wind field, storm surge, currents, and wave field. Not only does wind cause direct damage to structures along the coast, but it is ultimately responsible for much of the energy that is transferred to the ocean and expressed as storm surge, mean currents, and surface waves. Waves and currents are the processes most responsible for moving sediments in the coastal zone during extreme storm events. Storm surge, which is the rise in water level due to the wind, barometric pressure, and other factors, allows both waves and currents to attack parts of the coast not normally exposed to these processes.

Coastal geomorphology, including shapes of the shoreline, beaches, and dunes, is also a significant aspect of the coastal change observed during extreme storms. Relevant geomorphic variables include sand dune elevation, beach width, shoreline position, sediment grain size, and foreshore beach slope. These variables, in addition to hydrodynamic processes, can be used to predict coastal vulnerability to storms.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Assessment of Coastal Change Hazards project ( strives to provide hazard information to those concerned about the Nation’s coastlines, including residents of coastal areas, government agencies responsible for coastal management, and coastal researchers. As part of the National Assessment, observations were collected to measure morphological changes associated with Hurricane Gustav, which made landfall near Cocodrie, Louisiana, on September 1, 2008. Methods of observation included oblique aerial photography, airborne topographic surveys, and ground-based topographic surveys. This report documents these data-collection efforts and presents qualitative and quantitative descriptions of hurricane-induced changes to the shoreline, beaches, dunes, and infrastructure in the region that was heavily impacted by Hurricane Gustav.

Posted January 2010

For additional information contact:
U.S. Geological Survey
600 4th Street South
Saint Petersburg, FL 33701-4846

Part or all of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF); the latest version of Adobe Reader or similar software is required to view it. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge.

Suggested citation:

Doran, K.S., Stockdon, H.F., Plant, N.G., Sallenger, A.H., Guy, K.K., and Serafin, K.A., 2009, Hurricane Gustav: Observations of coastal change: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2009-1279, 35 p. (Also available at



Storm Overview

USGS Coastal-Change Observations

Coastal-Change Analysis


References Cited

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