Morphologic evolution of the wilderness area breach at Fire Island, New York—2012–15

Open-File Report 2017-1116
By: , and 


  • Document: Report (21.8 MB pdf)
  • Related Works:
    • Data Series 914 - Bathymetry of Wilderness Breach at Fire Island, New York from June 2013
    • Data Series 1034 Bathymetry data collected in October 2014 from Fire Island, New York—The wilderness breach, shoreface, and bay
    • Data Series 1049 - Coastal bathymetry data collected in May 2015 from Fire Island, New York—Wilderness breach and shoreface
    • Data Series 1007 - Coastal bathymetry data collected in June 2014 from Fire Island, New York—The wilderness breach and shoreface
  • Data Release: USGS data release - Hurricane Sandy Beach Response and Recovery at Fire Island, New York—Shoreline and Beach Profile Data, October 2012 to June 2016
  • Download citation as: RIS | Dublin Core


Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall on October 29, 2012, near Atlantic City, New Jersey, had a significant impact on the coastal system along the south shore of Long Island, New York. A record significant wave height of 9.6 meters (m) was measured at wave buoy 44025, approximately 48 kilometers offshore of Fire Island, New York. Surge and runup during the storm resulted in extensive beach and dune erosion and breaching of the Fire Island barrier island system at two locations, including a breach that formed within the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness area on the eastern side of Fire Island.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has a long history of conducting morphologic change and processes research at Fire Island. One of the primary objectives of the current research effort is to understand the morphologic evolution of the barrier system on a variety of time scales (from storm scale to decade(s) to century). A number of studies that support the project objectives have been published. Prior to Hurricane Sandy, however, little information was available on specific storm-driven change in this region. The USGS received Hurricane Sandy supplemental funding (project GS2–2B: Linking Coastal Processes and Vulnerability, Fire Island, New York, Regional Study) to enhance existing research efforts at Fire Island. The existing research was greatly expanded to include inner continental shelf mapping and investigations of processes of inner shelf sediment transport; beach and dune response and recovery; and observation, analysis, and modeling of the newly formed breach in the Otis Pike High Dune Wilderness area, herein referred to as the wilderness breach. The breach formed at the site of Old Inlet, which was open from 1763 to 1825. The location of the initial island breaching does not directly correspond with topographic lows of the dunes, but instead the breach formed in the location of a cross-island boardwalk that was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy.

From 2013 to November 2015, bathymetric data were collected by the USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center during three surveys of the breach channel and tidal shoals, and shoreline positions on each side of the breach (also collected by the National Park Service). Additionally, pre-storm topography/bathymetry EAARL–B light detection and ranging (lidar) data were collected by the USGS the day prior to Hurricane Sandy’s landfall. These data serve as a baseline for change analyses during four subsequent periods: June 2013, June 2014, October 2014, and May 2015. The June 2013 single-beam bathymetry data were collected in collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), using the Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo (LARC) vessel, and included the ebb shoal and breach channel. The USGS collected and processed the three additional bathymetric datasets using personal watercraft equipped with single-beam echo sounders and backpack Global Positioning System (GPS) over shallow flood shoals.

Eastern and western breach shorelines were surveyed weekly to monthly beginning on November 6, 2012 (by the National Park Service [NPS], and USGS St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center), with measurements made every few weeks for the first year and every few months after October 2013. The NPS and researchers from Stony Brook University monitored the breach by collecting field data of the breach channel bathymetry, conducting aerial photographic overflights, and performing water-quality analyses (see The aerial photography collected and rectified by Stony Brook University is used extensively in our morphologic change description to examine changes to breach shorelines (supplementing shoreline data collected in the field), channel width, and orientation. Due to the uncertainties and the variation in survey methods, a rigorous quantitative analysis was not performed. However, average calculations of various breach metrics allow a qualitative analysis of breach development and evolution.

This report presents an overview of the data collected and a summary discussion of the observed changes to the breach system and the seasonal wave climatology associated with the breach morphodynamic response.

Suggested Citation

Hapke, C.J., Nelson, T.R., Henderson, R.E., Brenner, O.T., and Miselis, J.L., 2017, Morphologic evolution of the wilderness area breach at Fire Island, New York—2012–15: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2017–1116, 17 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion and Summary
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Morphologic evolution of the wilderness area breach at Fire Island, New York—2012–15
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2017-1116
DOI 10.3133/ofr20171116
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center
Description Report: vi, 17 p.
Country United States
State New York
Other Geospatial Fire Island
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details