Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Environmental Sciences/Environmental, Earth & Ocean Sciences

First Advisor

Allen M. Gontz

Second Advisor

Crystal L. Schaaf

Third Advisor

Jack Wiggin


A short record of natural and human driven coastal change hampers our ability to understand long-term trends necessitating the development of paleo-proxy records and baseline geospatial datasets. The objective of this dissertation was to develop datasets critical to deciphering past drivers of coastal change along the Massachusetts coastline. The research was carried out within the relatively pristine Waquoit Bay estuarine system, located on Cape Cod and within Boston's heavily industrialized Inner Harbor.

A 3000 year storm record has been reconstructed within Waquoit Bay based on a storm induced coarse grain sediment proxy. Forty three event beds have been recorded in the Waquoit sediments with those occurring during the historic period correlating to documented hurricane strikes. At South Cape Beach paleoforest site, sediment cores and radiocarbon ages returned from subfossil stumps were used to determine the timing and character of marine inundation. Results indicate a dynamic back-barrier paleoenvironment with frequent overwash and breaching events occurring between 400 and 1200 years before present leading to the drowning of individual trees. Ground penetrating radar and sediment core data have allowed for the identification of fourteen buried inlet structures. The buried inlets make up 19% of the 2.9 m long barrier beach. The barrier has a framework geology diagnostic of a transgressing system including buried breachways and major prehistoric tidal channels.

The influence of post-colonial urbanization on the preservation potential of coastal and military landscapes has been determined within Boston's Inner Harbor. The majority of tidal lands including salt marshes and tidal flats have been dramatically modified with few remnants of the pre-modified landscape remaining today. Three sites were identified as having preservation potential for containing cultural resources associated with defining features of the battle.

The combined studies have provided valuable datasets documenting the drivers and process driven responses of coastal evolution over multiple spatial and temporal scales. Within Waquoit, results indicate that stochastic storm events have punctuated quiescent periods and been the primary driver of coastal evolution. Within Boston's Inner Harbor, anthropogenic modifications forced unprecedented changes to the coastal landscape.


Free and open access to this Campus Access Dissertation is made available to the UMass Boston community by ScholarWorks at UMass Boston. Those not on campus and those without a UMass Boston campus username and password may gain access to this dissertation through resources like Proquest Dissertations & Theses Global or through Interlibrary Loan. If you have a UMass Boston campus username and password and would like to download this work from off-campus, click on the "Off-Campus UMass Boston Users" link above.