Category Archives: coastal dunes

US East Coast foredune grasses —quantifying the abundance of literature

Two grasses tend to cover much of the coastal foredunes of the US Atlantic coast. North of the North Carolina/ Virginia area, foredunes are often covered in Ammophila breviligulata (American Beachgrass). South of the NC/VA area, foredunes are often covered in Uniola paniculata (Sea Oats). After my look at how much is written about ‘Coastal Dunes’, I wanted to look at how much is written about these two species. I searched for both of these species — separately — using the Web of Science in early March 2017. Each search is done as a ‘topic’ search, so responses come from paper titles, abstracts and keywords.

Various other plants are present on the shifting sands of East coast foredunes, such as Panicum amarum (Bitter Panic Grass), Spartina patens (Saltmeadow Cordgrass), and Iva imbricata (Dune-marsh elder), to name a few. I included P. amarum in this analysis just for fun.

Shown below is the number of papers written about each species in 5 year bins.


A. breviligulata also grows along the shores of the US ‘Great Lakes’, and the US West coast — I would guess this is the cause of the dominance in  A. breviligulata studies.

  • The ratio of papers per 5 year period for A. breviligulata: U. paniculata: P. Amarum is roughly 5:3:1.
  • The ratio of articles sizes (measured in bytes) on Wikipedia for each of the species is currently 3:2:1.
  • I keep wondering if the ratio of papers about the species reflects the ratio of total shoreline covered the species… or perhaps the ratio of some other abundance metric…

I have a paper in review about some of the geomorphic consequences of these different foredune species.

I found a great dune paper, but too late

There it was. The last figure in Ritchie and Penland (1988). A conceptual model for coastal dune development on barrier islands subject to storms. It is the figure I was looking for in 2015 when I wrote a paper on coastal dunes — I just found it one year too late..

Here is the figure from Ritchie and Penland (1988):


The figure lays out a tidy conceptual model where coastal dunes tend to develop with time, subject to erosion from minor storm events. After some period of time, the minor storms stop causing dune erosion and the dune reaches a final stage of development before being totally destroyed by a major storm.

Now to my own figure in Goldstein and Moore (2016):GM.jpg

Which shows the trajectory of the nondimensional dune height (D*) as the dune is subjected to periodic storm events (with different characteristics, hence the multiple curves). This is not the exact as from Ritchie and Penland, but it sure is close (and I could certainly have made a more similar version).

This sort of issue — discovering a great reference too late — is bound to happen for coastal dune researchers (since so many coastal dune papers are published) and for other earth scientists since so many papers are published. Preliminary work suggests that there may not be a major growth in reference section size. So I bet others have this problem of finding a good paper too late  — but it still hurts.

Open Structure-from-Motion Data (pt.2)

I wrote a post last summer about kite-based structure-from-motion data released on figshare in collaboration with a few colleagues (a fun side project). At the time, I couldn’t find a more specific repository for the raw images, GPS data, orthophotomosaic, and digital surface model. During AGU 2016 I stopped by the OpenTopography booth and apparently I can contribute my topographic data to the OpenTopography repository. A good way to make sure that small bespoke structure-from-motion datasets are stored in a place where people might find the data (i.e., find the SfM data when scanning through other relevant lidar data). My continued hope is that others may find these datasets useful, even if it seems that most data in repositories remains uncited (see here and here)

I originally published the data with the hopes of citing it in my own coastal dune research — and  I did manage use and cite this data on my AGU 2016 poster. This idea of citing a published dataset in a paper seems to be part of the ‘Geoscience Paper of the Future‘ concept (Gil et al., 2016David et al., 2016) where datasets, code, models, data analysis, etc. are all published seperately (i.e., given a DOI) and cited in the final manuscript. Among other benefits, these open science methods aid reproduceability and reuse by other researchers.


Photo credit: Mary Lide Parker / UNC Research

p.s.— check out Mary Lide’s work, it’s awesome.


Three Types of Coastal Dune Papers

I loaded the titles and abstracts from the 4,342 Coastal Dune papers discussed in my previous post into the network visualization tool VOSviewer. The co-occurence of keywords in abstracts and titles leads to three prominent groups:Coastal Dune network map.jpg.

Group 1 (purple) is the biology, botany, and ecology literature — with words such as ‘habitat’, ‘species’, ‘biodiversity’, ‘nutrient’, and ‘biomass’. 

Group 2 (blue) is the sedimentology, geology, and (long timescale) geomorphology literature — with words such as ‘sea level’, ‘age’, ‘progradation’, ‘holocene’ and ‘luminescence’

Group 3 (yellow) is the coastal engineering and (short timescale) geomorphology literature— with words such as ‘wave’, ‘storm’, ‘surge’, ‘dune erosion’, ‘vulnerability’, and ‘coastal management’

The coastal engineering, sedimentology, and geomorphology groups (yellow and blue) are near one another (more words co-occur), but the purple biological literature is further apart (fewer co-occurring words). 

4,342 Coastal Dune Papers

The literature on coastal dunes is rich and varied, coming from a variety of journals and disciplines. If you search Web of Science for ‘Coastal Dune’ (from 1900-2016) you are rewarded with 4,342 papers. This sort of ‘topic’ search looks for the mention of ‘Coastal Dune’ in publication titles, abstracts, and author supplied keywords.

Here are the # of papers published per year found searching for ‘Coastal Dune’  from 1900-2016:F1.jpg

  • The peak year was 2013, with 303 papers
  • Note that we are only 7 months in to 2016 and already 149 new papers on coastal dunes exist. Extrapolating for all of 2016 results in 255 papers for the year, similar to the period of 2009-2012.

Below you can see the cumulative papers. Updated Aug. 3, 2016: The literature on Coastal Dunes tends to double in size every ~6 years (calculated from 1991-2015).

I guess the field started to heat up in 1990/1991 — I wonder why? Updated Aug. 2, 2016: Before 1991, no abstracts were included in the Web of Science, so this accounts for the bump.


These 4,342 ‘Coastal Dune’ papers have been published in 1112 different locations. The top 10 locations for ‘Coastal Dune’ research (by volume of papers) are:


  • Out of the 10 most cited papers in this dataset of 4,342 papers, only 1 was published in the ten journals listed above.

 Graphically, you can see that most published research is concentration in these journals (ordered by rank; Linear axes on the left panel, Log axes on the right panel)


To me, this begs the quesiton of: Is it possible to do a comprehensive literature review when you have so many papers to cover, from so many disciplines, from so many journals?