Robert Dolan, a geologist who helped change how people thought about the formation and function of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, is being remembered by the university where he worked nearly 50 years.
Dolan died April 24 in Charlottesville. He was 87.
Dolan was one of the founding professors of the University of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Sciences. His research explained why the barrier islands on the Atlantic Coast are shifting rather than washing away as a result of waves and storms. Previously, scientists believed the banks were anchored by hidden coral reefs, but Dolan’s work showed this was not the case. He described the Outer Banks as a “ribbon of sand” only about 30 feet thick.
Dolan provided expert advice to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding efforts to stabilize the shoreline at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. He also advised state officials regarding N.C. 12, the Outer Banks highway and Oregon Inlet.
“In building the high coastal dunes along the Outer Banks,” Dolan wrote, “man has created a new state in the beach system that may be detrimental to the long-range stability of the barriers and may become more difficult and costly to manage than the original natural system.”
The University of Virginia’s communications department says Dolan published more than 200 articles and studies during his career.