Monday, November 27, 2017

Oakland Beach

Oakland Beach is on Greenwich Bay (within Narragansett Bay) in Warwick, southeast of Providence's TF Green Airport. Unlike the beaches on Rhode Island's southern shore, this is a distinctly estuarine beach. And a highly structured one, too.

The park is located on the southern tip of a small peninsula, where waves approach primarily from the south. In a natural condition, erosion of this headland would supply sediment to longshore transport in both directions around the point (we sometimes call these divergent zones in Puget Sound), possibly forming small spits on each side of the peninsula. Even with the heavy overprint of development, you can sort of get a sense of this from the aerial imagery.


The beach here at the park is highly artificial - in configuration, if not the material itself (I don't know if these beaches are nourished, although I suspect they could be). A riprap revetment protects the central portion of the site. And groins are used to create beaches on both sides. The individual pocket beaches are swash-aligned, facing directly into the largest waves. 

Time to head for the airport and return my rental car. This is the ninth beach I've added to my collection in 27 hours! And not only did I sleep and eat (not much) during that time, but I also climbed the highest hill in Rhode Island (which was no where near a beach)! My Rhode Island trip can be seen through a slightly different lens over on the other blog: hshipman: November 2017.


Napatree Point extends westward from Watch Hill more than a mile, but it used to be much longer. It originally included Sandy Point which is now a sandy island drifting farther north in Little Narragansett Bay. The remains of Fort Mansfield are still found near the tip of Napatree, but all the houses that lined the point prior to 1938 are gone.


The 1938 Hurricane hit Napatree Point hard. Powerful waves riding on top of a huge storm surge destroyed all the homes, killed many people, and reshaped the local landscape. My introduction was reading Sudden Sea, by R.A. Scottie, a number of years ago. Sort of a New England version of Eric Larsen's Isaac's Storm. For you hurricane junkies out there.

Napatree is now publicly accessible and a wildlife preserve. It is managed by the Watch Hill Conservancy. I would have loved to explore, but I arrived very late in the day and only had time to run out to the base and take a few pictures before the sun set. And before my fingers froze to my phone.

Watch Hill

Watch Hill is a wealthy residential community built on glacial high ground near the southwestern tip of Rhode Island. There are a couple of hotels, including the Ocean House. There's a lighthouse perched on a narrow promontory that extends south from Watch Hill into Block Island Sound. This little point of land must largely isolate Misquamicut Beach to the east from Napatree Point to the west (next post).


There are many very large homes on Watch Hill, but the most prominent (probably not the largest) is perched high above the beach east of the lighthouse. From the water, what stands out is the degree to which it has been fortified. Not only does it have a massive rock revetment at beach level (most of the beach is buried beneath the revetment, making it a bit of an obstacle at most tides), but the rock work extends on up to the top of the hill. The owner probably doesn't actually see this - unless they're down at the beach trying to figure out how to get home. And she probably doesn't spend much time here, what with new album (Reputation) and preparing for an upcoming concert tour.
Call it what you want, but I thought it was a little excessive.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Charlestown Beach

This was an even briefer stop than the others. I was concerned that I hadn't left enough time to get all the way to Watch Hill before it got dark. And my hands were cold. But you never know what you're going to find when you're visiting new beaches and I figured I still had just enough time to swing by this one.

I suppose the same storm that takes out the house at Moonstone Beach will also take out this one, too.


This is probably an appropriate place to mention Jon Boothroyd. Many coastal geologists first learned about beach monitoring from Jon at URI, during surveys of some of the same beaches I've visited in the last few posts. I suspect that's the context in which I first heard about Charlestown Beach - either from Boothroyd himself at a conference or from his students.

If I'd left a little more time, I might have driven to the end of the road to the west to look at the breachway (the local term for a tidal inlet maintained with jetties). But I also knew there was a Dave's Coffee back on US 1, between here and my last stops of the day farther west.

Green Hill Beach

Continuing west from South Kingston and Moonstone, Green Hill is the next glacial ridge that extends to the sea, creating some high ground on which to build homes and a slight promontory where it hits the shore.


When I walked out to the beach, I was struck by how beat up it looked. And when a local showed up a little while later, he seemed just as surprised and indicated it was very recent. Perhaps the previous week's storm? The beach face seemed heavily eroded and a significant scarp had cut into the dune, undermining vegetation and sand fencing.

I was impressed - both on the ground and in the aerial imagery - by the large armored property just to the east. I realize that from the property owner's perspective it may seem the only option to hang onto their ephemeral rectangle of land, but to me it looked like a very expensive way to hang onto a big square of lawn. And it seems like the longer these armored headlands are maintained, the more they project into the sea, and the more they begin to impact adjacent shorelines in unexpected ways.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Moonstone Beach

Moonstone Beach lies a short distance west of Matunuck, on the barrier that separates Card Ponds and Trustom Pond from the ocean (Block Island Sound). Trustom Pond is a large closed lagoon that's protected as a National Wildlife Refuge.


Besides the back barrier wetlands and the bitterly cold wind, the most notable thing on this beach was the home located immediately to the east of the access road. It was perched on the dune, its deck posts protected by some sort of jute-wrapped mattresses. This place might weather a few more average storms, but it's tough to imagine it making it through anything much worse.

Other notes: There's another Moonstone Beach, on California's central coast, north of San Luis Obispo. There may be more. A moonstone is a blend of orthoclase and albite feldspar with unusual optical properties. I don't know if they were found on this beach or not. And reportedly, Moonstone Beach was once a clothing optional beach, although apparently not any more. And certainly not with a windchill in the low 20s!

Matunuck Beach

Matunuck Point forms a broad headland, bounded by barrier beaches in both directions. The headland, as elsewhere along this coast, is the result of more resistant glacial sediment at or above modern sea level. Resistant, but not permanent, and the entire coastline is gradually receding (as are most coastlines).


And as elsewhere, receding coastlines pose a challenge for beach communities, which generally do not recede at the same pace (or with the same ease). Beaches narrow, storm damages increase, and great efforts are taken to buy additional time. These efforts are inevitably expensive, and in the case of seawalls and riprap, require sacrificing the beach itself.

The Ocean Mist extends out across the beach, which probably makes it wonderful in the summer, exciting in the winter, and awfully temporary in the long run. South Kingston Town Beach, just to the west, is similar, although at least there is room to work with and some of the facilities have been relocated landward in the last couple of years.

The photos include Deep Hole Beach, at the east end, the central stretch at the Ocean Mist and Carpenter's Beach, and Town Beach at the west end.

Point Judith

Friday, two weeks ago, was a beautiful day for collecting beaches on Rhode Island's southern shore, west of Narragansett Bay. The stops were all short, partly because I had to cover a lot of ground and partly because the wind chill (low 30s, with strong northerly winds) kept hurrying me back to the car.

Point Judith marks the western entrance to Narragansett Bay and the eastern end of the string of beaches and eroding low glacial hills that characterize this coastline. Point Judith is an ice example of one of these low hills, where the ocean has carved a low bluff into glacial drift. The drift resists erosion and forms small headlands, and as it erodes, it provides coarse cobble and boulder that forms a lag surface on the foreshore (and offshore, too) and leads to coarse gravel beaches.


Heading west along this coast, most of the beaches between the major glacial headlands are long relatively sandy reaches, often with dunes and large back-barrier ponds. But in the immediate vicinity of the glacial outcrops, smaller beaches can form, some coarser or finer than others. Some of these are trapped or otherwise shaped by artificial structures -jetties, breakwaters, and armored promontories.


South Ferry Point

I'm taking a stab and calling this feature (the landform itself) South Ferry Point. It's the best I can do based on the USGS and NOAA charts. It's at the end of South Ferry Road, just north of Narragansett. And I think (another stab) that this may go back to its early role as the western landing for a ferry to Jamestown (Conanicut Island). It's now the Bay Campus of the University of Rhode Island, home to the School of Oceanography (and its research vessel Endeavor), Sea Grant, and an EPA office. So I'm sure there are folks who know what to call this place much better than I. And probably people who have actually studied the beach - not just inferred a story from a quick visit and some aerial imagery!

This small point of land appears to be a cuspate foreland or recurved spit. Much like the landform in the previous post, it appears to me to be most strongly influenced by southerly waves, with a very coarse southern limb and a sheltered northern side, with a gravel beach transitioning to a much sandier one. Modifications to the point have significantly altered both the shape of the feature and the free movement of sediment around the point, so I can only guess at its original appearance.

The south shore is a steep cobble beach, with rubble that suggests past human efforts to battle erosion. The north side is segmented with a groin, further dividing the beach into somewhat distinct (isolated) reaches.

This is the first of a whole bunch of fairly short (at least that's the plan) posts from the southern coast of Rhode Island, all dating to a very chilly day two weeks ago (Friday, November 10th).

Friday, November 24, 2017

Sandy Point Beach

Sandy Point Beach -- not a terribly creative name for a beach. And a bit of a generalization, too. At least on this visit, it could just as well have been called gravel beach with sandy backshore, but then it sort of depended on where along the beach I was.

This low point of land is on the western shore of the Sakonnet River estuary, a few miles northeast of Newport. I think my interpretations are limited by lack of familiarity with both the site and the larger setting and are also unduly influenced by my experience on Puget Sound, but it appears that the point is strongly shaped by south waves and longshore transport to the north. Although northerly storms and waves must also play a role.


The southern limb is fairly coarse, but the gravel foreshore gives way to sand on the north side. This suggests that either the transport of gravel from the south sort of runs out of oomph as it wraps around the corner, or that the sheltered north side simply accumulates sufficient sand to bury any gravel that is present.

Sandy Point appears to be a drift-aligned beach. There's also another small point similar to this one just a mile and a half north. In contrast, there's a nice example of a swash-aligned beach just east across the bay at Fogland Beach (see aerial). 

There were many interesting details - small dunes on the north side where sand was more abundant, a rock groin at the tip of the point, a small section of low-tide cobble platform exposed at the south end, and recent evidence of erosion of the gravel berm (also on the south end). There was a distinct storm berm on the upper beach on the north side (but not at a very high tide), with small swash deposits of shells (say small shell swash three times quickly), that I suspect are the result of the previous week's big storm (October 29th - my visit was on November 5th).

Brenton Point

Brenton Point is at the outer end of the Ocean Drive loop in Newport. It's a low, rocky point at the southwestern tip of Aquidneck Island, which is the largest island in Narragansett Bay.

There's a vertical seawall protecting the road from the ocean that curves around the point itself. The heavily foliated metamorphic rocks on the shore provide a nice source of shingle that piles up against the base of the wall. A groin on the west side allows for a small gravelly beach to form (I'm guessing that without the groin, these beach would not exist).


The Portuguese Discovery Monument at Brenton Point was an intriguing tribute to 15th and 16th century navigators. It's layout is based on an old navigation instrument and apparently it is supposed to reflect a similarity to Cape Sagres, at the southern tip of Portugal. I guess I'll have to go there and check for myself.