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Open-File Report 2013–1270

Hurricane Isaac: Observations and Analysis of Coastal Change

By Kristy K. Guy, Hilary F. Stockdon, Nathaniel G. Plant, Kara S. Doran, and Karen L.M. Morgan

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (6.33 MB)Introduction

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 process of interest is sediment transport that is driven by waves, currents, and storm surge associated with storms. Storm surge, which is the rise in water level due to the wind, barometric pressure, and other factors, allows both waves and currents to impact parts of the coast not normally exposed to these processes.

Coastal geomorphology reflects the coastal changes associated with extreme-storm processes. Relevant geomorphic variables that are observable before and after storms 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 quantify coastal change and are used to predict coastal vulnerability to storms (Stockdon and others, 2007).

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Assessment of Coastal Change Hazards (NACCH) project ( provides hazard information to those concerned about the Nation’s coastlines, including residents of coastal areas, government agencies responsible for coastal management, and coastal researchers. Extreme-storm research is a component of the NACCH project ( that includes development of predictive understanding, vulnerability assessments using models, and updated observations in response to specific storm events. In particular, observations were made to determine morphological changes associated with Hurricane Isaac, which made landfall in the United States first at Southwest Pass, at the mouth of the Mississippi River, at 0000 August 29, 2012 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) and again, 8 hours later, west of Port Fourchon, Louisiana (Berg, 2013). Methods of observation included oblique aerial photography, airborne light detection and ranging (lidar) topographic surveys, and ground-based topographic surveys. This report documents 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 Isaac.

The report is divided into the following sections:

  • Section 1: Introduction

  • Section 2: Storm Overview, presents a synopsis of the storm, including meteorological evolution, wind speed impact area, wind-wave generation, and storm-surge extent and magnitudes.

  • Section 3: Coastal-Change Observations, describes data-collection missions, including acquisition of oblique aerial photography and airborne lidar topographic surveys, in response to Hurricane Isaac.

  • Section 4: Coastal-Change Analysis, describes data-analysis methods and observations of coastal change.

First posted January 14, 2014

For additional information, contact:
Director, St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
600 Fourth Street South
St. Petersburg, Florida 33701

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Suggested citation:

Guy, K.K., Stockdon, H.F., Plant, N.G., Doran, K.S., and Morgan, K.L.M., 2013, Hurricane Isaac—Observations and Analysis of Coastal Change: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2013–1270, 21 p.,

ISSN 2331-1258 (online)




Storm Overview

USGS Coastal-Change Observations

Coastal-Change Analysis


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