Coastal Erosion Along Outer Cape Cod, MA

rosion along the eastern shore of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is an ongoing natural process. The wide sandy beaches are made from sand that falls down from the glacial cliffs, or scarps, behind the beach. Waves, currents and wind then move much of the sand to other parts of Cape Cod.

Human construction, such as buildings and parking lots, often suffer severely from coastal erosion. A 300-car parking lot located one mile south of Nauset Light was completely demolished by the Great Storm of 1978. More recently, private homes in Chatham have fallen into the ocean as a result of coastal erosion. Nauset Lighthouse was in danger of falling over the cliff until it was moved to a new site in November 1996. It has been learned that it is better to build farther away from the shoreline and to plan for regular replacement or relocation of buildings, such as lighthouses, that need to be close to the water's edge.

The average natural erosion rate on the Atlantic Ocean side of Cape Cod has been 3.8 feet a year. However, in the area of Nauset Light, the average for the period 1987-1994 had accelerated to 5.8 feet. There may be little or no erosion in some years, and more than fifteen feet in other years.

Cape Cod is gradually narrowing. It loses more land than it gains. In several thousand more years, it will no longer exist.

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photo © 1995 Nicolas Nobili