GALVESTON - Many residents of the state don't know that one of every four Texans lives along the coast, or perhaps that Texas has 16 major ports and more than 3,300 miles of bays and estuaries. But that may be about to change as a Texas A&M University at Galveston professor is raising the learning curve and the awareness level when it comes to the Texas coastline.
Sam Brody, who heads the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores at the Galveston campus, has spent the last five years creating a unique web-based coastal atlas that has all sorts of benefits for anyone wanting to know more about the 18-county Texas coast. Thanks to grants from the Texas General Land Office, Sea Grant and NOAA, volumes of information that were never before available are now a mouse click away.
"We believe this is the most complete work of its kind ever created about the Texas coast," Brody proudly says from his Galveston office.
"We have produced information that never before could be accessed, so much so that we had to create new software to pull it all together. But the result is the most detailed and comprehensive spatial database ever compiled for the Texas coast."
How detailed? Brody and his research team have produced comprehensive information about every area of the Texas coast down not only to the city block, but also to any individual house or lot on that block.
One feature of the atlas shows the hazards of living along the Texas coast - and there are plenty. Flood zones are prevalent in most coastal areas and beach erosion - in some areas, the shoreline is disappearing at the rate of 10 feet per year - transportation issues, population issues and other hazards are detailed in the atlas.
Also detailed are development and land-use patterns and where future growth is likely to occur along the Texas coast.
One of the most interesting features is a "what if" scenario dealing with storm-water runoff in Galveston County. Brody says this atlas component can help users understand the consequences of developing a specific parcel before the shovel hits the ground. It shows areas that are very susceptible to hurricane damage and how much damage might occur if a hurricane makes landfall.
"I think one of the biggest misconceptions that people who live along the Texas coast have is that they are not fully aware of the risks associated with living where they do," Brody explains.
"The Galveston-Harris County area is one of the most flood-prone areas in the United States. Also, erosion is a huge problem that is not going away any time soon, plus there are huge risks associated with storms, flooding and other weather-related issues.
"There are also what we call 'social vulnerabilities' of living along the coast such as rising property values, increased hotspots of population and other risks," he notes. "We have learned through experience that when a hurricane hits, it's almost impossible to evacuate an entire city like Houston, so we have examined what might happen in such a scenario."
Brody says the Texas coast is one of the fastest-growing coastal regions in the country.
The atlas is constantly updated, and Brody hopes to expand it further with future research funding.
"What I am most proud of is that we have taken just about every possible question someone might have about the Texas coast and we have produced an answer that is easy to understand," Brody adds. "It's a great educational and research tool for the general public to learn more about the Texas coast."
The coastal atlas is a collaborative project between the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores and the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center (HRRC) at Texas A&M. Walter Peacock, director of the HRRC, also helped to create the atlas.
To learn more about the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores, go to http://www.tamug.edu/CTBS/.
To learn more about the coastal atlas, go to http://coastalatlas.tamug.edu/.