New hole in Norton Point Beach
A combination of high tides, big swells, and strong winds last week blew a new hole through the Norton Point Beach, creating a second, current-tortured connection between the Atlantic Ocean and Katama Bay.
The new opening is about 250 meters, or about 820 feet wide, toward the Katama end of the beach, west of the earlier opening, according to David Babson, The Trustees of Reservations superintendent on Chappaquiddick.
"It's happened a couple of times this summer," Mr. Babson said. "This one does seem to be a little bigger and potentially more permanent."
The original breach occurred0 in April 2007, when a strong storm created a break in the neck of sand that for decades has connected Katama to Chappaquiddick. The opening between Katama Bay and the Atlantic has created strong tidal currents and hazardous boating conditions in Edgartown Harbor.
The latest breach left a small sand island between the two breaches. Mr. Babson said that it is difficult to predict what the ocean will do, but there is a strong possibility that island will be washed away, perhaps as early as this weekend, when a northeast storm is forecast. The new breach may set back the ocean's slow process of rebuilding the barrier beach.
"It seems like we lost some ground," Mr. Babson said. "It's really hard to predict. It seemed like it was closing faster than people thought. I think this is par for the course. You get these times of building, where the ocean is giving back, and then there are times of taking away."
An Oak Bluffs fifth grade class got a unique chance to see a little bit of beach history. The students were beginning a program to take measurements of the initial breach, using photographs, global positioning satellite data, and other measurements to document the erosion and natural restoration of the beach as part of the Trustees' Claire Saltonstall Education Program.
But the fifth grade class got more than they bargained for in the first week of the coastal geology course. The first group of students visited Norton Point Beach on October 6, and another group of students visited on October 8, the day before and the day after the new breach was formed. While it was a different group of students, many of the same teachers visited on both occasions.
"The teachers were just floored, " said Sarah Mello Trudell, education manager for the local Trustees organization. "We lost a good chunk of sand that was building up." The teachers pointed out the remaining sand island, and told the students that their classmates were walking out there just two days earlier.
The students gathered some very unusual data in the first week of the program. The measurements will be useful when collected over a period of years.
"It will give us some basic data that we'll be able to map that will help us see where the breach is today, and how quickly it's moving east," Ms. Trudell said. "Hopefully we can get a map from each year. We want to have the students help us get that information. This will give us a good indication of the progress."
Ms. Trudell said she is no longer surprised by the way powerful natural forces are reshaping the beach. "I'm never surprised by it, but it's always neat to see."