OCEANSIDE — Once a month, a group of individuals passionate about restoring Oceanside’s sandy beaches walk the entire stretch of the city’s coastline to measure the movement of sand and document noticeable changes.
All of the data collected by “citizen scientists” of Save Oceanside Sand, a local advocacy group, are transferred back to Adam Young’s lab at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. There, scientists can study the data to better understand what is happening to sand on Oceanside beaches.
Citizen science is when members of the public collect and analyze data in collaboration with professional scientists. Serena Milne and Bob Ashton started the Save Oceanside Sand citizen science project in partnership with Scripps in late 2020.
According to Ashton, Oceanside’s coastline is broken into 60 transects, or lines along which observations are made. For 11 months, the group measured the height and contour of the beach at every other transect using equipment borrowed from Scripps.
Due to technical issues, measuring sand was put on hold until October, when the group received new equipment from Scripps that allowed them to start monitoring the coastline.
In the last two months, Milne and Ashton have been learning how to operate the new equipment with Connor Mack, a future doctoral student working for Young’s lab at Scripps.
The new equipment includes a new global navigation satellite system (GNSS) real-time kinematic (RTK) receiver that works much more efficiently than the group’s previous device.
“The receiver is measuring position in XYZ coordinates, so they trace the same cross shore lines going from the back of the beach to the water,” Mack said. “We can look at how and where the Z value, or height, is changing.”
The group takes these measurements at 30 lines (every other transect), each spaced about 200 meters up and down the coastline.
“The data is fed live as we’re going up and down the beach, not uploaded later,” Ashton said.
Other than measuring the height of sand, citizen scientists have also been taking pictures of significant changes they notice each month.
“We happened to start noticing all kinds of different features… we saw cobbles here or sand there, erosion berms, sand shoals off the shore,” said Milne, who has a doctorate in geology. “So we started to record them.”
One exciting change the group noticed was a 25-foot-tall cobble berm that was there one month and gone the next.
“There was no heavy equipment on the beach,” Ashton said. “This was just mother nature moving things around.”
Over the decades, mother nature has swept more and more of Oceanside’s sand from its shores further down the coastline. Save Oceanside Sand, a more than 400-member local advocacy group is working to preserve the city’s sandy beaches.
By collecting more data about Oceanside’s coastline, the findings can point to best practices for preventing the loss of sand.
“The more information we have, the better decisions we can make,” Milne said.
City leaders working on solutions to replenish and retain sand on Oceanside’s beaches can also benefit from the information found through the citizen science project.
“The citizen science that SOS is working on is really important to the city’s next endeavors as we’re working on the Beach Sand Nourishment and Retention System,” said Oceanside Coastal Zone Administrator Jayme Timberlake.
Save Oceanside Sand pushed the city to create the coastal zone administrator position last year to provide support and further coordination and management relating to Oceanside’s coastal-related programs. Timberlake was hired after serving as the coastal zone program administrator for Encinitas.
“They’re a real asset to the city by helping encourage coastal management with a new holistic perspective,” Timberlake said about the group.
According to Timberlake, the city is gearing up for the second phase of its sand replenishment and retention project, which will develop a beach monitoring program. The plan is to determine a consistent source of sand and what type of retention device – like an artificial reef or groins – could be deployed to prevent the sand from being washed away.
Beyond following Save Oceanside Sand’s beach monitoring project, Timberlake has also worked with two other citizen science efforts – CoastSnap, which relies on repeated photos of the coast taken by the general public to see how things change over time, and SandSnap, which invites the public to take pictures of the sand grain size in comparison to coins for scientists to measure.
Deploying citizen science tactics gets more boots on the ground – or toes in the sand – collecting valuable data for scientists to analyze.
The next step for Save Oceanside Sand is to invite more high school students from El Camino and Oceanside to participate in the beach monitoring project.
Ashton said the group is working with the county to potentially obtain grant money for an additional set of equipment, which would open up more opportunities for students and other interested citizen scientists to participate and collect even more helpful data about what is happening to Oceanside’s sand.