, Volume 30, Issue 1 Supplement, pp 83-96,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Numerical modeling of the impact of sea-level rise on fringing coral reef hydrodynamics and sediment transport

Abstract

Most climate projections suggest that sea level may rise on the order of 0.5–1.0 m by 2100; it is not clear, however, how fluid flow and sediment dynamics on exposed fringing reefs might change in response to this rapid sea-level rise. Coupled hydrodynamic and sediment-transport numerical modeling is consistent with recent published results that suggest that an increase in water depth on the order of 0.5–1.0 m on a 1–2 m deep exposed fringing reef flat would result in larger significant wave heights and setup, further elevating water depths on the reef flat. Larger waves would generate higher near-bed shear stresses, which, in turn, would result in an increase in both the size and the quantity of sediment that can be resuspended from the seabed or eroded from adjacent coastal plain deposits. Greater wave- and wind-driven currents would develop with increasing water depth, increasing the alongshore and offshore flux of water and sediment from the inner reef flat to the outer reef flat and fore reef where coral growth is typically greatest. Sediment residence time on the fringing reef flat was modeled to decrease exponentially with increasing sea-level rise as the magnitude of sea-level rise approached the mean water depth over the reef flat. The model results presented here suggest that a 0.5–1.0 m rise in sea level will likely increase coastal erosion, mixing and circulation, the amount of sediment resuspended, and the duration of high turbidity on exposed reef flats, resulting in decreased light availability for photosynthesis, increased sediment-induced stress on the reef ecosystem, and potentially affecting a number of other ecological processes.

Communicated by Guest Editor Dr. Clifford Hearn