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UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield Hall 218
Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004
Geography Professor Helps With
Coastal Erosion Research
phone (715) 836-4741
fax (715) 836-2900

MAILED: April 28, 1998

EAU CLAIRE -- The one thing you won't find University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire geography professor Dr. Harry Jol doing this summer is looking for something to do.
After working on a national project studying coastal erosion in southwest Washington last summer, Jol is anxious to go back at the end of the semester, even though it means field researching, data crunching and problem solving for up to 16 hours a day.
"I love being in the field trying to solve problems," Jol said. "It's a lot of fun."
Jointly funded and directed by the U.S. Geological Survey, Washington State Department of Ecology and local agencies, the Southwest Washington Coastal Erosion Study began in 1994 as a result of the massive amounts of beach erosion in the area.
Jol, who became associated with the project more than two years ago, studies the subsurface geology using ground penetrating radar and coring techniques.
Five other universities -- Portland State University, the University of Washington, Oregon State University, University College of the Fraser Valley and Grays Harbor College -- are involved in a variety of research on the coast. An array of technology is used during the project, including Global Positioning Systems, digital remote sensing and computerized data cataloguing.
Jol's investigations have concluded that earthquakes shake the coast every 300-500 years, causing the land to subside. The ocean waves then batter the shore, causing massive erosion. When the land rises again, the beaches build out toward the ocean. This event provides a timeline as to what will happen in the extended future; but it's the short-term future that worries Jol and the other scientists involved with the project.
The survey as a whole has discovered that badly needed sediment, which flows from the Columbia River into the ocean and spreads along the coast, is possibly being cut off by a series of dams upstream. This, along with the building of jetties and the mining of sand, could offset the natural cycle of erosion and accretion, and has already created major problems along the coast.
Some areas of the coast are disappearing at a rate of 150 feet per year, causing millions of dollars in damage, Jol said. In 1993, the ocean broke through a jetty, threatening a coastal town and a state park. The breach was filled with 750,000 cubic yards of sand at a cost of $8 million.
Once the project is complete, Jol said the research gathered will be used to help coastal communities set guidelines for how to develop cities and counties in a safe and responsible manner.
"We'll suggest what the communities should do based on our findings," he said. "We can't say, 'you're going to do this or else.' We're going to make them aware of the problems."
Communities on the coast are happy the project is being done, Jol said.
"This makes our job much easier," he said. "Everyone is concerned with solving problems."
Much of the evidence gathered has already been given to the communities, and was presented at a Geological Society of America meeting last fall in Salt Lake City. In May, more of the findings will be discussed at an International Ground Penetrating Radar Conference Jol will attend in Lawrence, Kan. this May.
In conjunction with the research in Washington, Jol has been working on a similar project dealing with the affects the rising waters of Lake Superior have on the Duluth Barrier and the Apostle Islands. Along with taking geography classes up to the Duluth area, Jol supervises students during the summer who are doing research with the help of differential tuition funds.
As for the coastal project in Washington this summer, Jol is excited to get back to days filled with research and analysis.
"Sometimes we're in the field at 6 or 7 a.m. until 10 or 11 p.m.," he said. "When the day's over all you can do is fall into bed."

UWEC [Administrative Offices] [News Bureau]

Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield 218
(715) 836-4741

Updated: April 28, 1998