Drowned Barriers as Archives of Coastal-Response to Sea-Level Rise



Advances in submarine technologies and increased exploration of continental shelves are revealing increasingly more submerged barriers that have drowned in response to early- to mid-Holocene sea-level rise. These coastal archives, when combined with information on sea-level trends, oceanographic conditions and palaeogeography, are valuable palaeo-evidence that can be used to understand the processes and drivers of coastal change. In this chapter, we synthesize documented examples of drowned barriers preserved on continental shelves across the world. Using these examples, we examine the relative significance of controls on barrier drowning (aka overstepping) whereby the barrier becomes drowned offshore of the advancing shoreline. Relative sea-level rise (RSLR), sediment supply and topography are the principal controls on shoreline retreat, but the interaction between these factors cannot readily be deconstructed as they are not in operation simultaneously, nor present along all coasts. However, it is possible to recognize local conditions that make barriers vulnerable to overstepping. It is shown that barrier retreat through overstepping is enhanced by one or more of the following; coarse grain size, cemented sediment, high sediment supply rates, topographic pinning and a rapid increase in accommodation. We emphasize that to gain a better understanding of the likely response of barrier coastal systems to future RSLR and to better constrain numerical models, we need to fully utilize the geological record left behind by former coastal systems that underwent accelerated RSLR in the past.


Barrier Coast Overstepping Rollover Drowned Sea level Transgression Holocene Submerged landscape Coastal retreat Sediment supply Palaeoshoreline 



The authors would like to thank the editors of this volume for inviting this review and their comments on the manuscript. We would also like to thank John Anderson and an anonymous reviewer for their input which improved the manuscript. Chris Thomas is thanked for his review. This research is published with the permission of the Executive Director of the British Geological Survey (BGS) and was supported in part by BGS’s Marine Geoscience research programme.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.British Geological Survey, The Lyell CentreResearch Avenue South, EdinburghUK
  2. 2.School of Environmental Sciences, University of LiverpoolLiverpoolUK

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