CSU faculty, students helping city of Monterey find answers to beach erosion

By Liz MacDonald

Measuring sand erosion with a beach cartThe beaches and coastlines of Monterey Bay change every year as winter storms bring high surf that erodes the land. This can mean trouble for coastal properties such as the Del Monte Beach townhomes, perched just above the beach berm.

One way to manage erosion and protect property is called beach nourishment. It involves depositing sand in front of the threatened structures on an ongoing basis.

Faculty and students from CSUMB’s Division of Science & Environmental Policy are using a specialized beach cart to measure the effectiveness of this approach. The cart scans the beach with a sophisticated laser array called LiDAR. Researchers use this data set to create precise computer models of the beach and sea cliffs. By taking repeated scans over a series of months, they’ll be able to determine how much erosion is occurring, and how well the beach nourishment program is working.

Traditionally these types of surveys are conducted from either a single location or by airplane.

Beach erosion crew

The crew working on beach erosion issues includes (from left) Alex Snyder, CSUMB graduate student; Jimmy Chambers, CSU Fresno graduate student; Jeff Papendick, CSU Fresno undergraduate researcher; Mathieu Richard, assistant professor, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, CSU Fresno; and Rikk Kvitek, CSUMB professor of Science & Environmental Policy and director of the Seafloor Mapping Laboratory.


“The beach cart is unique, and suited to the Del Monte Beach project, because we are able to survey more area than would be feasible from fixed locations while avoiding the cost and preparation time involved in an aerial survey,” said Alex Snyder, a graduate student in the Applied Marine & Watershed Science program who is spearheading the effort.

Snyder is working under the supervision of professors Rikk Kvitek and Doug Smith and with the help of several undergraduates.

“Sound environmental decisions must be based upon defensible scientific research,” Smith said. The Del Monte Beach scanning project provides the evidence the property owners and city of Monterey need to determine the best course of action for protecting the townhomes.