Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Oceanography



First Advisor

John P. Walsh


Coastal barrier systems are important features that protect the landward environment from the impacts of storms and are economically and ecologically valuable. These systems respond to various environmental and anthropogenic forcings that influence their morphology and sedimentology. This study investigates the impact of storms on two unique coastal barrier systems in southern Rhode Island. The two study sites, the Charlestown Town Beach (CTB) system, and Moonstone Beach within the Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge (TP), vary in their anthropogenic influence, which is believed to have significantly affected their evolution.

Analysis of lidar and sediment data revealed that more erosion occurred at TP vs. CTB, for both Hurricane Sandy and the December 2023 nor’easter. Results show increased recovery at the unmanaged system compared to the managed system, suggesting the resilience of natural systems. Dunes have the capacity to recover in volume, but do not return to their original location, illustrating how storm forcing causes dunes to retreat, and how complete system recovery is unlikely. Additionally, surficial grain-size and underlying stratigraphy of a beach-dune system is shown to potentially be variable and influential. The data from this thesis informs modeling efforts and provides insight into how storms shape coasts and how management has led to their evolution. Also, this research is part of a larger NOAA project focused on modeling the effects of storms and sea level rise in National Parks in coastal New England and will help inform this overall effort to inform an array of stakeholders.



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