Voyager: What new technologies are you using to study sand, and why are they better?


Answer: Chances are you don’t think too much about the sand under your feet when you walk along the beach. However, beaches are constantly in motion, and the movement of sand holds important clues about our shoreline, especially when it comes to understanding why our beaches erode.

These days, high-tech tools are helping scientists find answers more quickly. For example, we can gather information in a matter of minutes using technology such as lasers mounted on airplanes. Researchers can determine the height of sand within inches by flying the airplane several hundred feet over a beach and sending down laser pulses.  In one day, we can map 100 miles of coastline!

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are also playing a big role in our research. The systems use satellites to track an object’s exact spot on Earth. Before GPS, it was very difficult to accurately measure sand levels. Today, GPS systems installed on Scripps’s all-terrain vehicle and Jet Ski let scientists accurately track sand both on the beach and under the waves.

The more we know about sand—and how it moves from season to season—the more answers we can provide not only to other scientists, but to property owners and resource managers who must cope with natural and man-made erosion, pollutants, and other hazards along Southern California coastlines.

--Bob Guza, oceanographer, Integrative Oceanography Division

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