Geoscience in Two-year Colleges > Activities > Beach Profiling, Observing and Documenting a Changing Environment, Point Lookout, NY

Beach Profiling, Observing and Documenting a Changing Environment, Point Lookout, NY

This page authored by JoAnn Thissen, Nassau Community College
Author Profile


Beach profiling and sediment analysis is a method used in sedimentology and coastal geomorphology to study dynamic beach processes and the effect of wave, current and anthropogenic structures on a beach. Sediment analysis for mean grain size, shape, sorting and skewness provide information on provenance and textural maturity. By combining these two methods students can put together a snapshot of the beach at the time of study. By comparing data taken over several seasons students can see a total picture of beach dynamics over time.

Learning Goals

The most important goal of this exercise is to give community college students the opportunity to do undergraduate research on a topic of real importance to a community on Long Island. The identity of Long Island is defined by its beaches but erosion along most of the south shore's barrier beaches is a major issue that impacts many communities there. This project gives them the opportunity to learn to work as a team and as individuals to work on real-life problems. Another goal is to give them field and laboratory experience using methods common to professional coastal geologists. They must then synthesize the information gathered from this research, use Excel to create spreadsheets, statistically analyze and graph their data. This, combined with previous learning in the classroom, is then used to analyze the problems involved in the protection of this community's beach. The final goal is to have them learn to write scientifically and to present their work to other students, faculty and the community for whom they're working.

Context for Use

This activity is used in a Physical Geology class of 24-26 non-science majors in grades 13 and 14. It is conducted in lecture, field and laboratory settings. The project takes a total of 2 lecture sessions and 2 laboratory sessions. One lecture session provides the content on coastal processes and structure. Since Long Island's geology is glacially controlled, we spend another lecture discussing Long Island's glacial history, which then can then include in their final report. The remainder of this lecture session is used teaching them the field methods and having them practice profiling. The field trip is taken during a normal laboratory session and takes approximately 2 hours. The mechanical sediment processing using a RoTap, visual identification under microscopes and the computer work using a specialized computer program to statistically analyze their data takes another lab session. They are then sent home to enter that data into Excel spreadsheets and to graph the data. They are given about half an hour of the next lab session for a team meeting to discuss and analyze their total findings and to prepare for their papers and final presentation. It is their term project and counts for 20% of their lecture grade and 10% of their lab grade.
The lecture hours are part of the course content and would have been presented anyway. Visual analysis, although interesting for the student, is not a necessary part of the project and there have been some terms where we weren't able to do this. Team meetings can be done outside of the classroom.

Description and Teaching Materials

Student Handout- Sediment Processing Data Sheet (Excel 73kB Jun19 10)
Student Handout: Barrier Beaches (Microsoft Word 39kB Jun19 10)
Instructions for Beach Profiling (Microsoft Word 6.7MB Jun19 10)

Beach Profile Data Sheet (Microsoft Word 33kB Jun19 10)

Teaching Notes and Tips


Assessment is based on 1) field work 2) laboratory work 3) computer analysis, spreadsheets and graphs and 4) final report and presentation.

References and Resources

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