Cutting-edge research starts on Folly Beach County Park erosion

College of Charleston’s Bart Betenbaugh and Leslie Sautterer use a surveying rod to measure erosion and renourishment changes at Folly Beach County Park. Buy this photo

— On a recent afternoon, Adam Griffith flew a kite at the county park here, a kite with an aerial camera attached.

Down the beach, College of Charleston geologists hoisted a surveying rod and set up imaging equipment, using lasers to put together precise, 4-D records of how much sand is on the beach. Later, they will use multi-beam sonar to map the sand channeling and silting in Stono Inlet.

Not only is the sought-after Folly Beach County Park groin-and-renourishment project under way, so is one of the more intense studies of what difference it makes — good or bad.

If the project robs sand from nearby shorebird rookery and feeding grounds, the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission has agreed to remove the groin, a wall built into the surf to partly dam the flow of sand in the current along the shore.

The study is cutting-edge and could be invaluable. It involves hot-button environmental issues, such as the groin, renourishment and shorebird rookeries. It provides a rarely seen close-up, a real-world visual model of how sand moves in a rapidly eroding environment. That could give coastal managers a better read on how to protect the beaches here and in other places.

Griffith is a research scientist with the developed shorelines program at Western Carolina University. The geologists are professors Leslie Sautter and Scott Harris.

The research will involve students from a team that just won national academic awards for using the technology to map seafloors.

But this research, as student Robin Banner said, “will make an impact.”

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