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After Nor'easter, UD students head to Broadkill for storm data

Katie Peikes
Delaware Public Media
Tim Pilegard pushes an autonomous kayak into the water.



Less than a week after a Nor'easter swept through Delaware, two University of Delaware students were taking measurements of a beach with robots to understand how the storm changed the shape of the coast.



Stephanie Dohner and Tim Pilegard pre-programmed a self-piloting kayak and a drone to tell them where to collect data points at Broadkill Beach. 


The drone took snapshots of the shape of the beach while the kayak calculated the speed of sound to get the depth of the seafloor.


Dohner says research like this provides important information about  coastal changes - small or dramatic - that could influence how to approach residential, tourism and natural resources related issues. 


“We need to know how they’re changing, why they’re changing, what we do to the coast, so that’s why we’re out here,” Dohner said.


Pilegard gathered some his data as recently as the Friday before the storm, while Dohner said she has some data from December to compare Sunday’s too. Pilegard focused on gathering data for the kayak, while Dohner set up the drone.


“I’m hoping to see some movement in the sandbar I saw in my first data set,” Pilegard said. “The storm is shifting some things around on a large enough scale that I’m able to resolve it.”


Next, Dohner and Pilegard will process the data and compare it to previous data sets to determine if the Nor’easter changed the shape of the beach - and if so, by how much.


“I definitely expect to see beach slope change and kind of what the beach looks like in a profile aspect,” Dohner said. “I remember when they first put the sand in it was very straight lines and it looked like someone had built a beach. Now to me it’s looking more like a naturally formed kind of thing.”


They expect to have more definitive answers later this week. 


Pilegard said for now their research is largely focused on the coast and wetlands, but they’d like to use the drones and kayaks to map changes at larger beaches, such as Bethany Beach. Dohner said they could even see the technologies being used by municipalities in the future.

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