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Climate and Environment

California's Coastline Is Eroding. This New Tech May Help Us Understand How Fast

Much of a seaside cliff has collapsed, with brown exposed and rocks and debris on the beach below.
A man stands at the edge of an eroding cliff in Pacifica, California in January 2016. A new mapping system aims to better understand erosion on the state's coast.
(Josh Edelson
AFP via Getty Images)
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We may soon get a better understanding of how our coastline is eroding through new mapping technology.

UC San Diego will receive $7.35 million in federal funds for community projects, including money for a mobile Light Detection and Ranging, or LiDAR system.

LiDAR uses lasers to scan the coastline and create high-resolution 3-D spatial maps. The scans are collected by driving a pickup truck along the beach or using drones and allow researchers to track minute details in erosion over time.

Adam Young, a coastal geomorphologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, will work on the new system. Tracking coastal erosion is critical, he said, because Southern California has so much infrastructure along the coast.

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"We have highways, we have power plants and energy facilities, wastewater treatment plants, universities, military installations, residential structures, as well as a lot of public resources on state parks and beaches," Young said. "[They] are all threatened through coastal erosion processes."

The new technology will allow Young and his colleagues to more consistently measure erosion even in areas that have previously been difficult to map, such as coastal bluffs. They will also be able to immediately study the impact of storms on the coast.

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