Runaway Barrier Island Transgression Concept: Global Case Studies

  • Duncan M. FitzGeraldEmail author
  • Christopher J. Hein
  • Zoe Hughes
  • Mark Kulp
  • Ioannis Georgiou
  • Michael Miner


The regime of accelerating sea-level rise forecasted by the IPCC (2013) suggests that many platform marshes and tidal flats may soon cross a threshold and deteriorate/drown as back-barrier basins transform to intertidal and subtidal areas. This chapter explores how marshes may succumb to rising sea level and how the loss of wetlands will increase the extent and the overall depth of open water in the back-barrier, causing greater tidal exchange. Here, we present a conceptual model that depicts how increasing tidal prism enlarges the size of tidal inlets and sequesters an increasingly larger volume of sand in ebb-tidal delta shoals. The conceptual model is based on empirical relationships between tidal prism and inlet parameters, as well as field and theoretical hydraulic studies of tidal inlets showing that long-term basinal deepening intensifies the flood dominance of existing inlet channels and transforms some ebb-dominated channels to flood-dominated channels. This condition leads to sand movement into the back-barrier, which builds and enlarges flood-tidal deltas, filling the newly created accommodation space. The model hypothesizes that sand contributed to the growth of the ebb and flood tidal delta shoals will be at the expense of barrier reservoirs. This will result in diminished sand supplies along the coast, eventually leading to fragmentation of barrier island chains and the transition from stable to transgressive coastal systems. Several historical studies of barrier island systems throughout the world demonstrate barrier response to changing tidal prism and illustrate different stages of this conceptual model.


Barrier island Tidal inlets Transgressive shoreline Sea-level rise Saltmarsh deterioration Tidal prism Sediment transport Inlet hydrodynamics Coastal sand-reservoirs Ebb-tidal delta Flood-tidal delta Back-barrier feedbacks Lagoons Virginia barrier islands Nauset Spit New Inlet, MA Assateague Island Barataria Islands Chandeleur Islands Copper River Friesian Islands 



The authors would like to thank the many graduate students whose research helped develop the ideas presented in this chapter. The paper has been substantively improved with suggestions and editorial comments by Andrew Ashton, Laura Moore, Brad Murray, and one anonymous reviewer.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Duncan M. FitzGerald
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christopher J. Hein
    • 2
  • Zoe Hughes
    • 1
    • 3
  • Mark Kulp
    • 4
  • Ioannis Georgiou
    • 4
  • Michael Miner
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Earth and Environmental SciencesBoston UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Physical SciencesVirginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and MaryGloucester PointUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biology and BiochemistryUniversity of HoustonHoustonUSA
  4. 4.Department of Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of New OrleansNew OrleansUSA
  5. 5.Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Gulf of Mexico RegionNew OrleansUSA

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