Stephen Leatherman

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Stephen Parker Leatherman, also known as Dr. Beach, (born November 6, 1947) is an American geoscientist, coastal ecologist, and author. He was the first director of the International Hurricane Research Center at Florida International University (FIU), from 1997 to 2009. He then became professor and co-director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at FIU.

His annual Top 10 Beaches list receives attention in the news media. His selection of Siesta Beach in Sarasota, Florida, as an example, accounted for more than 425 million downloads in 2011 according to the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau. Leatherman has also appeared on hundreds of TV news and other shows to discuss his research on beach quality evaluations, coastal storm impacts, beach erosion, and sea level rise and coastal impacts.[1] To the public, he is best known for his annual rankings of American beaches, thus earning him the nickname of "Dr. Beach".[2]


Leatherman earned his Ph.D. in environmental (coastal) sciences from the University of Virginia in 1976 and a B.S. degree in geosciences from North Carolina State University in 1970.[1] He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1972.

Beach ratings[edit]

Leatherman is known for his annual ratings of the top beaches in the United States; his #1 beach for 2012 was Coronado Beach in San Diego, California. Once a beach is awarded the top ranking, Leatherman "retires" it from any further consideration as a National Winner.[3]

The list, which Leatherman has released each Memorial Day weekend since 1991, is based on 50 criteria. Some of the tools used to evaluate a beach in the field include: dye ball water tracer for measuring currents such as longshore and especially dangerous rip and tidal currents, Secchi disk for measuring water clarity and visibility, a Brunton compass/clinometer to determine beach slope, field sieve set to determine sand grain size, and a hand lens for mineralogical identification. He takes a dip in the water to identify any holes or rocks on the beach face because his rankings are for swimming beaches. Prior to visiting a beach, he checks EPA water quality data and safety records, especially regarding drowning.[verification needed]

Past national winners[edit]


  • Developed water tracer for detection of rip currents.
  • Organized and chaired 1st International Rip Current Symposium (2010).
  • Developed full-scale hurricane simulator termed the "Wall of Wind" as Director of the International Hurricane Research Center (Journal of Coastal Research, 2007)
  • Established the relationship of coastal erosion and sea level rise based on historical shoreline change data (with FIU colleagues), which accounts for the fact that 80-90% of U.S. sandy beaches are experiencing erosion (EOS, 2000)
  • Produced documentary film on impacts of global warming and sea level rise on coastal areas; "Vanishing Lands" won three international film awards, including the Golden Eagle (1992)
  • Developed the rating scale for beaches (1991), which forms the basis for the Top 10 Beaches List.
  • Determined time frames for barrier island migration and established the critical width criteria, which are fundamental scientific concepts with important development ramifications (Shore & Beach, 1987)
  • Conducted the first case study analysis of coastal impacts of global warming and sea level rise (various technical reports, 1984)
  • Developed computerized mapping technique termed "Metric Mapping" for high accuracy determination of historical shoreline changes and beach erosion rates, which transformed our ability to establish trends for future beach changes (Shore & Beach, 1983)
  • Built vertical sand trap for windblown sand—now used worldwide and called the Leatherman sand trap (Sedimentology, 1978)
  • Conducted first field measurements of storm-generated overwash, which was an integral part of his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Virginia (1976)


  • Field Guide To The Water's Edge (with Jack Williams), National Geographic, Washington, DC, 2012, 335p. (members edition).
  • Rip Currents: Beach Safety, Physical Oceanography And Wave Modeling (with John Fletemeyer, editors), CRC Press International, 2011, 277pp.
  • Hurricanes (with Jack Williams), World Life Library, London, England, 2008, 72pp.
  • Dr. Beach's Survival Guide: What You Need To Know About Sharks, Rip Currents & More Before Going In The Water, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 2003, 106 pp.
  • Beach Vacation Travel Journal, AAA, Heathrow, FL, 2002, 80pp.
  • Sea Level Rise: History And Consequences (with B. Douglas and M. Kearney, editors), Academic Press, 2001, 228 pp.
  • Coastal Erosion Mapping and Management (with M. Crowell, editors), Journal of Coastal Research, Special Issue No. 28, 1999, 196 pp.
  • America's Best Beaches, Laboratory for Coastal Research, Florida International University, Miami, FL, 1998, 112 pp. (Distributed by University Press of Florida).
  • Island States At Risk: Global Climate Change, Population and Development, Journal of Coastal Research, Special Issue No. 24, editor, 1997, 242 pp.
  • Potential Impacts Of Accelerated Sea Level Rise On Developing Countries (With R. Nicholls, editors), Journal of Coastal Research, Special Issue No. 14, 1995, 323 pp.
  • Managing Coastal Erosion (with others), National Academy Press, Washington, 1990, 182 pp.
  • Cape Cod: From Glaciers To Beaches, Laboratory for Coastal Research, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, 1988, 132 pp.
  • Responding To Changes In Sea Level: Engineering Implications (with others), National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1987, 148 pp.
  • Remote Sensing Laboratory Manual (with S. Goward), Kendall-Hunt Publishing Co., Dubuque, Iowa, 1986, 116 pp.
  • Barrier Islands (with G. Oertel, editors), Special Issue, Marine Geology, V. 63, Elsevier Publishing Co., Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 1985, 419 pp.
  • Overwash Processes, Benchmark Papers in Geology, Hutchinson and Ross Publishing Co., Stroudsburg, PA, editor, 1981, 376 pp.
  • Environmental Geologic Guide To Cape Cod National Seashore, Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists, Eastern Section, editor, 1979, 249 pp.
  • Barrier Island Handbook, Laboratory for Coastal Research, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, editor, 1979, 101 pp., reprinted 1980; revised and reprinted 1982; revised and reprinted, 1988.
  • Barrier Islands: From Gulf Of St. Lawrence To Gulf Of Mexico, Academic Press, New York, editor, 1979, 325 pp.

University appointments[edit]

Leatherman taught coastal courses at the following universities (in order): University of Virginia, Boston University, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Yale University, University of Maryland at College Park, Duke University Marine Laboratory, and Florida International University.[verification needed]

Expert witness[edit]

Leatherman testified before U.S. House of Representatives and Senate Committees eleven times on a variety of coastal issues. He also has been an expert witness in lawsuits regarding coastal erosion and beach safety, especially involving rip currents.[verification needed]


  1. ^ a b "Stephen P. Leatherman (biography)". International Hurricane Research Center. 2010-04-16. Archived from the original on 2011-11-28. Retrieved 2013-02-09. External link in |work= (help)
  2. ^ "About Dr. Beach". 2012-05-24. Archived from the original on 2012-11-07. Retrieved 2013-02-09.
  3. ^ "Dr. Beach: America's Foremost Beach Expert.  Top 10 Beaches". Retrieved 10 April 2014.

External links[edit]