Scientists with the US Geological Survey, who have been regularly photographing the Northern California coastline in order to document its changes, now say that the massive landslide on the southern end of Big Sur that occurred on May 20 amounts to 13 acres of new land. The new, skirt-shaped outcropping is the equivalent of 200,000 dump trucks full of rubble, as the East Bay Times explains, or 2 million cubic meters of earth. The USGS further says the slide "could have filled 800 Olympic-sized swimming pools" and it now buries Highway 1 under 65 to 80 feet of dirt and rock.
“If you look around the world, almost everywhere we’re losing coast,” says Gary Griggs, professor of earth sciences at UC Santa Cruz, speaking to the East Bay Times. “There are only three places where we gain it: Hawaii, where new lava flows into the ocean, cools and we sell it for beachfront property; deltas, like the Mississippi, although that is low-lying, and then massive coastal landslides.”
And, Griggs says, this new piece of land isn't likely to last too long. "It’s probably relatively short-lived,” he says. “It might take a couple years or a decade, but it will erode.”
As NBC Bay Area reports, the USGS will continue monitoring the slide using airplane and drone flights to help Caltrans assess how to move forward. And as we learned last week, no one really has a clue yet how they will be rebuilding/digging out a road here. But they're going to try.
Starting last year, the USGS has been using cameras mounted on a plane to photograph the coast 10 times a year, from San Francisco to Big Sur, with the help of pilot Bob Van Wagenen of Watsonville-based Ecoscan Resource Data.
"If we know what is going on [with the coast], we can help figure out how to plan for the future," says USGS research geologist Jonathan Warrick, who's based in Santa Cruz, speaking to the East Bay Times. "The goal is to develop databases so we can track changes along the coast, which we know is changing all the time."