Waves Against Cape Cod: An Uneasy Truce by Victor and Yvonne E. Goldsmith

The Cape Naturalist: Vol 1 No 1

June, 1972

The outer beach of Cape Cod from Provincetown to Monomoy Point may be considered to be 30 miles out to sea, and as such, is subject to the relentless attack of the waves. However, the outer beach has shown that it is capable of adjusting to the continuous onslaught of the waves through changes in the shoreline configuration. Two of these coastal processes will be discussed in detail.

The Growing Shield. A glance at a map shows that the outer beach of Cape Cod resembles a curved shield which appears to protect the Cape from the storm waves generated out in the Atlantic. Most of the waves approach Cape Cod from the east-northeast. The cliff and beach of the outer Cape in the Truro vicinity, in the center of the shield, are oriented perpendicular to the dominant wave approach direction, and so receive the brunt of the wave attack. North of Highland Light and south of Marconi Station the east-northeast waves approach the outer Cape shoreline at an oblique angle, and some of the wave energy is transformed into longshore currents which flow parallel to the shore and in the general direction of the wave advance. These currents transport much of the sediment eroded from the Truro cliffs to Race Point and Long Point to the northwest, and to Nauset Spit and Monomoy Island to the south. Indeed all four of these features were formed as a direct result of the processes of wave induced longshore currents discussed above.

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Cape Cod Museum Of Natural History

This is the first blog posting from the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History. This blog will be used to periodically “reprint” articles from The Cape Naturalist that began publishing in June of 1972. Prior to those postings we’d like to give you an overview of the Museum.

The Museum is located on the Old King’s Highway in Brewster, Massachusetts. The address is 869 Route 6A, Brewster, MA  02631-1032. You can find our Facebook presence here and you can join our ConstantContact list here.

Mission: To inspire appreciation and understanding of our natural environment through discovery and learning by integrating three strands of its organizational identity – as a museum of natural history, nature education center, and steward of conservation land.

  • As a small museum of natural history, we preserve, exhibit, and interpret our own collections of natural history artifacts and display relevant traveling and loan exhibits.
  • As a nature education center, we are a gathering place for citizen scientists and amateur naturalists, and as a forum for informed discussion of important issues related to the natural world, especially on Cape Cod.
  • As a steward of 400-plus acres of museum-owned land in Stoney Brook Valley and Brewster conservation land adjacent to the Museum, we monitor and protect the land and focus our programming on its varied habitats – our outdoor classroom and teaching tool.

There are several popular nature walks – around a salt mash, through the Lyn Peabody Wildflower garden (received the  2007 Homer Lucas Award for Public Gardens from the New England Wild Flower Society), or through a wooded path down to the beach; most of the Museum land (south of historic Route 6A) is within the Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program Priority Site for Rare Species and Exemplary Natural Communities; Museum land is entirely within the Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District established by state law in 1973 and thought to be the largest in the country (as of a 2004 study); there is also a major herring run, Paine’s Creek, going through the property that most likely attracted Native Americans to the area long before colonists arrive – it is celebrated by renowned naturalist John Hay’s classic book, “The Run” published in 1959.

The Museum has also been responsible for an archaeological dig on Wing Island (town-owned land). The island is named for John Wing—the first English settler to live in this part of Cape Cod, and was part of the territory that the original Plimoth colonists reserved for themselves. It is also a microcosm of the archaeology of the Cape and provides clues of what the past of the region contains. Findings date back 9,000 years to prehistoric Cape Cod and demonstrates a slice of what the Cape was like prior to European settlement. There is also remnants of an old salt works that operated on the island. Wing Island is the inspiration for “Jack’s Island” in William Martin’s 1991 novel, Cape Cod.

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