Researchers collect critical elevation data that informs sound management and increases coastal resilience in national parks

Vegetation data collection - Reina Galvan (Mosaics in Science Intern), Jes Cressman (Univ of RI) and Erica Brown (NCBN, NPS Bio Tech) estimate the percent cover of each vegetation species in one of our sample plots. Vegetation data are being collected as part of the Northeast Coastal and Barrier Network's long-term monitoring program as well as part of a salt marsh resiliency project funded as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Credit: Erika Nicosia/NPS
Last edited 10/21/2015

Contact: Sara Stevens (NPS),, (401) 874-4548

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the National Park Service is working with researchers to collect critical, high-resolution elevation data that will inform sound park management and increase coastal resilience.

Three national parks were particularly affected by Hurricane Sandy: Assateague Island National Seashore, Gateway National Recreation Area and Fire Island National Seashore. These coastal parks are exceptionally vulnerable to the effects of storms and sea-level rise because of their low elevation, the frequency and intensity of Atlantic hurricanes, the adjacent shallow continental shelf and because they are located in an observed “hot spot” of sea-level rise in the mid-Atlantic region. These coastal parks will ultimately continue to sustain additional flooding, erosion and severe storm damage and alteration.  

Increasingly park managers and planners need to know what areas of their parks are and will be most vulnerable to intense erosion and/or sustained periods of flooding so that they can plan and manage accordingly for the future. In order to identify these most vulnerable park areas, a number of planning, data collection and elevation mapping and modeling efforts are underway. 

Scientists from the University of Rhode Island and Rutgers University, along with highly trained NPS staff, have been collecting survey grade elevation data around park buildings and cultural sites, as well as key natural resource areas in the parks such as the globally rare salt marshes that occur along the Atlantic Coast. With these data, modelers will be able to help the National Park Service to develop scenarios showing what these resources might look like following the next hurricane as well as predictions into the future related to sea-level rise. A key question for park managers and planners is what is going to happen to these critical and important park resources in the future and how can we better manage for resiliency. 

More information:

The following two links provide a brief overview of the Elevation Mapping Project:

The following google site houses NPS Hurricane Sandy proposals, project progress reports and general information about each project. This site continues to be developed:

Photo gallery:


The following is a profile of Jim Lynch, NPS Northeast Coastal and Barrier Network Employee collecting sediment elevation data for 10 coastal parks in the NE. Jim provides additional field and logistical support on this Hurricane Sandy Elevation:

The following is a photo slider of Jim Lynch working to collect elevation data:

The following is a photo slider of NPS employees and collaborators from URI and NOAA, being trained in how to use new high accuracy GPS Survey grade equipment that was purchased by the NPS through Hurricane Sandy funding. The idea behind training many people at once is to maintain what we call the NPS NE Region GPS Swat team, a group of highly trained NPS staff who can collect, process and analyze high resolution elevation data for the parks: