A Celebration of the World's Barrier Islands

A Celebration of the World's Barrier Islands

Text by ORRIN H. PILKEY
Original Batiks by MARY EDNA FRASER
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 400
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/pilk11970
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    A Celebration of the World's Barrier Islands
    Book Description:

    From the Carolina Outer Banks to New York's Fire Island, from Iceland to the Netherlands and Colombia to Vietnam, barrier islands protect much of the world's coastlines from the ravages of the sea. Although these islands are vastly different in many ways, they also share many common features. Most dramatic among these is their dynamism -- barrier islands are in almost constant motion, their advances and retreats powerful testimony to the force and beauty of nature -- and their vulnerability in the face of a different kind of force, commercial and residential development.

    This first-of-its-kind survey of barrier islands around the globe had its genesis in 1993, when geologist Orrin Pilkey met artist Mary Edna Fraser at Cape Lookout National Seashore in North Carolina. They soon realized they shared a passion for the barriers, one heightened by the many threats the islands face from development and global warming. These fragile and irreplaceable jewels, Pilkey and Fraser determined, needed to be better understood, and, as important, to be seen in a new way, if they were to be saved.

    Every bit as dynamic as the islands they depict, Mary Edna Fraser's spectacular original batik artwork (silk cloth colored by hand using a modern variation of an ancient dyeing technique) has been exhibited in both science and art museums. Combined with Orrin Pilkey's engaging and informative text, they create a treasure of a book that is at once beautiful and rigorously scientific. Pilkey identifies three major types of barriers -- coastal plains, Arctic, and delta -- each with its own geological characteristics and particular morphologies, which are themselves shaped by several factors, including the absence or presence of underlying rock formations, tidal patterns, and vegetation. Employing the latest advances in geological mapping, Pilkey also identifies traces of ancient barriers marking long-lost shorelines -- a further reminder that in the geological dance of land and sea, change is the only constant.

    Praise for Mary Edna Fraser and her art:

    "Pilot with a palette... as much of an artist in the midst of the creative process as Picasso laboring over his easel." -- Michael Kilian, Chicago Tribune

    "Fraser's works depict an organization and sensuousness in the land that is visible only from the air." -- Susan Lawson-Bell, National Air & Space Museum

    "Exhibited and collected around the world, her batiks have a common theme: promoting the awareness of environmental beauty and change on the planet as seen from the air. " -- Carolyn Russo, Women and Flight

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53405-5
    Subjects: General Science, Environmental Science, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. viii-ix)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. x-xiv)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xv-xx)
  5. PROLOGUE
    (pp. 1-8)

    Hurricane Dennis (1999), which will be described in chapter 1, was a single, brief, violent event in the life of the Outer Banks barrier island chain of North Carolina. There are thousands of such events to come for mobile islands like these all over the world. More storms are a certainty. A rising sea level is a certainty, too. And so are increased pressure to develop the land, more dams on the rivers that supply sand, deeper navigation channels between the islands, and more seawalls to lock up sand. One could say that the barrier islands of the world, arguably...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Dennis Roars Ashore A Beneficial Catastrophe
    (pp. 9-26)

    I got the call from CBS News about two in the afternoon. Hurricane Dennis had just arrived off the North Carolina coast; waves were already washing across the barrier islands of the Outer Banks. The island’s only highway was closed by waves and flooding. The producer told me that he wanted to pursue a new angle; instead of emphasizing human misery, the network wanted to cover the damage done by nature to nature. I enthusiastically agreed to be interviewed the next morning and even complimented the producer for having come up with a good idea. And with decades of observations...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Global Picture
    (pp. 27-52)

    Nurtured by sand and forever shaped by winds, waves, ice, and changing sea levels, barrier islands endure and persist. Capable of withstanding the largest of storms, they require natural catastrophes for their very survival. They can build upward if earthquakes or other forces cause the land to sink, and most striking of all, they are capable of moving back toward the mainland when a rise in the level of the sea threatens to consume them. Barrier islands exist all over the world, in all climates, along all types of coasts (batik 2.1) and yet are among the youngest major landforms...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The American Barrier Island Scene Hot Dogs and Drumsticks
    (pp. 53-88)

    Tonya Haff must have a photographic memory. As my summer student assistant, she was engaged in following up on one of my ingenious ideas—to compare barrier island scenes on postcards of different ages to see how the beaches had fared over past decades. By examining a large antique postcard collection, Tonya sought to document historical changes in beach width (erosion or accretion), seawall construction, and the density of development.

    One day, as she sorted the Atlantic City, New Jersey (Absecon Island), postcards, Tonya discovered a card that looked familiar, yet different. On returning to the files, she found that...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Barrier Islands and Human Realities Awash in Politics
    (pp. 89-112)

    For centuries, the North Sea waters off Holland’s West Frisian Islands have been among the most dangerous to mariners of any in the world. Buoys and lights have long steered the unwary mariner away from the shoals and tidal deltas of the barrier island chain. Nonetheless, shipwrecks abound on the sea floor just off the Frisians. In October 1799, the British frigate Lutine sank inexplicably in nearshore waters, losing all hands. Originally a French warship, the Lutine had been captured by the British and had fought as part of Admiral Nelson’s fleet five years earlier. On this particular mission, the...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Delta Barrier Islands That Sinking Feeling
    (pp. 113-140)

    Some of the great civilizations of the world have flourished on the rich soils of deltas, including those of the Nile, Rhine, Indus, Ganges-Brahmaputra, and Tigris-Euphrates Rivers. But the barrier islands that rim the delta fronts have not shared in this march of civilization. Even today, when people of the richest civilizations are willing to build homes on breathtakingly dangerous barrier island sites, the world’s delta barriers remain largely undeveloped.

    Accumulations of sediment at the point where rivers flow into a still body of water are called deltas. In the fifth century B.C., the Greek historian Herodotus coined the term...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Colombia’s Pacific Islands A Sinking Tropical Paradise
    (pp. 141-158)

    One of the greatest earthquakes of the twentieth century occurred on the Pacific coast of Colombia, South America, during the night of December 12, 1979. Later named the Great Tumaco Earthquake, after the nearby town, it measured magnitude 7.7, very similar to the August 17, 1999, earthquake near the sprawling city of Izmit in western Turkey. Unlike the Izmit quake, the Tumaco quake did not kill tens of thousands of people—but only because that remote and rugged part of the Colombian coastline is sparsely populated. Nevertheless, the tremblor was enormous, so much so that hundreds of miles away in...

  12. CHAPTER 7 The Carbonate Islands Tropical Permafrost
    (pp. 159-182)

    The three island chains unveiled in this chapter would, at first glance, seem to have little in common. They are the islands along the northern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico, the desert shore of Abu Dhabi in the Persian Gulf, and the Bazaruto Archipelago of Mozambique, East Africa. The common thread that binds them is calcium carbonate. This chemical compound, precipitated out of seawater, either inorganically or by marine organisms, plays a number of roles in the evolution of these islands. The grains that make up Yucatán and Abu Dhabi Islands are entirely calcareous. Bazaruto sand is mostly quartz...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Lagoon Barriers The Quiet Ones
    (pp. 183-204)

    In 1585 Sir Walter Raleigh, poet, entrepreneur, statesman, and favorite of Queen Elizabeth, sent 108 men to Roanoke Island in what is now the state of North Carolina. The Spanish, buttressed by the greatest war fleet of the time, were creeping up the east coast of North America, exploring and claiming lands, and the English were determined to stop them. Roanoke Island lies within Roanoke Sound, which is connected to the larger Pamlico and Albermarle Sounds, behind the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It was the first English settlement in North America, and it was meant as an outpost to...

  14. CHAPTER 9 The Icelandic Islands Of Fire and Ice
    (pp. 205-220)

    When Wagner wrote his Ring operas, based in part on the Icelandic sagas, he wasn’t thinking of sandur islands, but he could have been. The dramatic music of the ride of the Valkyries could well accompany the formation of the sandur islands of Iceland as volcanoes burst through glaciers, volcanic cones fill up with meltwater and then catastrophically break, and roaring cascades of water rush to the sea to form the islands.

    The great Skeidararsandur Jokulhlaup of 1996 began with small earthquakes just north of the Grimsvotn Volcano in southeastern Iceland. Grimsvotn, a volcano beneath the Vatnajokull Glacier, consists of...

  15. CHAPTER 10 Arctic Islands The Cold and Dark Ones
    (pp. 221-242)

    No barrier islands in the world are riskier places to live than those along the shores of the Arctic Ocean (fig. 10.1). Remoteness, severe weather, cold water, cold air, shore ice, and polar bears are among the hazards faced by the Inupiat Eskimos in this completely unforgiving environment. Archaeological excavations in Barrow, Alaska, at the extreme western end of Alaska’s North Slope barrier island chain strikingly brought this point home.

    After storms, residents of Barrow often stroll along the beach at the base of the frozen bluff in front of their village. They look for artifacts, traces of their ancestors...

  16. CHAPTER 11 False Islands Things Aren’t What They Seem to Be
    (pp. 243-262)

    I first suspected that there was a serious problem with my doctoral dissertation when I began to learn how barrier islands worked. I was a newly minted Ph.D. on my first job (1962) at the University of Georgia Marine Institute on Sapelo Island, and I had just (proudly) published my dissertation in an international journal. The study demonstrated the relationship between water temperature and the chemical composition of several species of seashells and noted that it might be possible to determine the water temperature of ancient oceans using shell composition. The shells for my study were collected from cold water...

  17. CHAPTER 12 Requiem for Some Friends
    (pp. 263-282)

    It is not at all a giant leap to liken barrier islands to well-oiled machines. Dozens of parts work together, each dependent upon the other, to achieve the desired motion. An even better analogy for barrier islands is life itself. Living things are smoothly operating systems that evolve in predictable and sensible ways to enhance their survival and their health. And so do barrier islands. Barrier islands lead a Gaia-like existence. The Gaia Hypothesis, briefly stated, holds that all life on Earth is a form of life itself. Earth’s entire ecosystem is in a giant global dynamic equilibrium with all...

  18. GLOSSARY OF TERMS
    (pp. 283-288)
  19. REFERENCES CITED
    (pp. 289-296)
  20. APPENDIX
    (pp. 297-302)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 303-310)