Morphodynamics of Barrier Response to Sea-Level Rise

  • Andrew D. Ashton
  • Jorge Lorenzo-Trueba


Barrier response to sea-level rise involves a dynamic interplay between the shoreface and the subaerial portion affected by overwashing. Focusing on feedbacks between these two, here we discuss a morphodynamic approach to modeling barrier transgression. In contrast with the steady transgression portrayed by morphokinematic models (which transport mass based on geometric considerations), a simple morphodynamic model predicts two modes of long-term barrier failure: width and height drowning. For barriers that survive sea-level rise, a most likely mode of barrier motion consists of punctuated and abrupt periodic transgression of the shelf, which can arise even from constant driving conditions. These intermittently migrational barriers spend most of their existence staying essentially in place, a stark contrast to the continuous behavior suggested by morphokinematic models of barrier retreat. Even small perturbations to a barrier system traversing the shelf in dynamic equilibrium can kick-start an oscillating retreat. Looking alongshore, shoreline interconnectivity can have a significant effect on shoreline behavior across both space and time. Overall, our morphodynamic modeling results motivate a need to investigate the internal dynamics of barrier systems to understand the full range of past and potential future response of barrier systems to sea-level rise.


Barrier rollover Overwash Shoreface Width drowning Height drowning Periodic retreat Dynamic equilibrium Alongshore connectivity Alongshore transport Moving boundary 



This research was funded by National Science Foundation grants CNH-0815875 and CNH-85850300, as well as Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program grant RC-1702. We thank Alejandra Ortiz, Jaap Nienhuis, and Daniel Ciarletta for thoughtful conversations. The manuscript was improved by thoughtful reviews from Peter Ruggiero and an anonymous reviewer. We also thank the editors of the book for their thoughtful input and patience.


  1. Ashton AD, Murray AB (2006a) High-angle wave instability and emergent shoreline shapes: 1. Modeling of sand waves, flying spits, and capes. J Geophys Res Earth Surf 111:F04011. Google Scholar
  2. Ashton AD, Murray AB (2006b) High-angle wave instability and emergent shoreline shapes: 2. Wave climate analysis and comparisons to nature. J Geophys Res Earth Surf 111:F04012. Google Scholar
  3. Ashton AD, Ortiz AC (2011) Overwash controls coastal barrier response to sea-level rise. In: Coastal sediments ‘11. Miami, Florida, pp 230–243Google Scholar
  4. Ashton A, Murray AB, Arnoult O (2001) Formation of coastline features by large-scale instabilities induced by high-angle waves. Nature 414:296–300. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ashton AD, Nienhuis J, Ells K (2016) On a neck, on a spit: controls on the shape of free spits. Earth Surf Dyn 4:193–210. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bowen AJ (1980) Simple models of nearshore sedimentation. Beach profiles and longshore bars. In: McCann SB (ed) The coastline of Canada. Geological survey of Canada, pp 1–11Google Scholar
  7. Bruun P (1962) Sea-level rise as a cause of shore erosion. Proc ASCE. J Waterw Harb Div 88:117–130Google Scholar
  8. Bruun PER (1983) Review of conditions for uses of the Bruun rule of erosion. Water 7:77–89Google Scholar
  9. Carruthers EA, Lane DP, Evans RL et al (2013) Quantifying overwash flux in barrier systems: an example from Martha’s vineyard, Massachusetts. USA Mar Geol 343:15. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cooper JAG, Pilkey OH (2004) Sea-level rise and shoreline retreat: time to abandon the Bruun rule. Glob Planet Change 43:157–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cowell PJ, Roy PS, Jones RA (1992) Shoreface translation model: computer simulation of coastal-sand-body response to sea level rise. Math C Simul 33:603–608CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cowell PJ, Roy PS, Jones RA (1995) Simulation of large-scale coastal change using a morphological behavior model. Mar Geol 126:45–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Davidson-Arnott RGD (2005) Conceptual model of the effects of sea level rise on Sandy coasts. J Coast Res 216:1166–1172. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dean RG (1991) Equilibrium Beach profiles: characteristics and applications. J Coast Res 7:53–84Google Scholar
  15. Dean RG, Maurmeyer EM (1983) Models for beach profile response. In: Komar PD (ed) Handbook of coastal processes and erosion. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 151–165Google Scholar
  16. Donnelly C, Kraus NC, Larson M (2006) State of knowledge of measurement and modeling of coastal overwash. J Coast Res 224:965–991. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fagherazzi S, Priestas AM (2012) Back-barrier flooding by storm surges and overland flow. Earth Surf Process Landforms 37:400–410. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fagherazzi S, Wiberg PW, Howard AD (2003) Modeling barrier island formation and evolution. In: Proceedings of the international conference on coastal sediments 2003. CD-ROM published by World Scientific Publishing Corp. And East Meets West Productions, Corpus Christi, Texas, USA. St. Petersburg, Florida. ISBN 981-238-422-7Google Scholar
  19. Falqués A, Calvete D (2005) Large-scale dynamics of sandy coastlines: diffusivity and instability. J Geophys Res 110.
  20. Falqués A, Ribas F, Idier D, Arriaga J (2017) Formation mechanisms for self-organized kilometer-scale shoreline sand waves. J Geophys Res Earth Surf 122:1121–1138. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gardner JV, Dartnell P, Mayer LA et al (2005) Shelf-edge deltas and drowned barrier–island complexes on the northwest Florida outer continental shelf. Geomorphology 64:133–166. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hallermeier RJ (1981) A profile zonation for seasonal sand beaches from wave climate. Coast Eng 4:253–277CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Jiménez JA, Sánchez-Arcilla A (2004) A long-term (decadal scale) evolution model for microtidal barrier systems. Coast Eng 51:749–764CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Komar PD (1971) The mechanics of sand transport on beaches. J Geophys Res 76:713–721CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Larson M, Hanson H, Kraus NC (1987) Analytical solutions of the one-line model of shoreline change, technical report CERC-87-15Google Scholar
  26. Leatherman SP (1979) Migration of Assateague Island, Maryland, by inlet and overwash processes. Geology 7:104–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Leatherman SP (1983) Barrier dynamics and landward migration with Holocene sea-level rise. Nature 301:415–417CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lorenzo-Trueba J, Ashton AD (2014) Rollover, drowning, and discontinuous retreat: distinct modes of barrier response to sea-level rise arising from a simple morphodynamic model. J Geophys Res Earth Surf 119:779–801. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lorenzo-Trueba J, Mariotti G (2017) Chasing boundaries and cascade effects in a coupled barrier-marsh-lagoon system. Geomorphology 290:153–163. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Masetti R, Fagherazzi S, Montanari A (2008) Application of a barrier island translation model to the millennial-scale evolution of sand key, Florida. Cont Shelf Res 28:1116–1126. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mellett CL, Hodgson DM, Lang A et al (2012) Preservation of a drowned gravel barrier complex: a landscape evolution study from the north-eastern English Channel. Mar Geol 315–318:115–131. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Moore LJ, List JH, Williams SJ, Stolper D (2010) Complexities in barrier island response to sea level rise: insights from numerical model experiments, North Carolina Outer Banks. J Geophys Res 115:F03004. Google Scholar
  33. Moore LJ, Patsch K, List JH, Williams SJ (2014) The potential for sea-level-rise-induced barrier island loss: insights from the Chandeleur Islands, Louisiana, USA. Mar Geol 355:244–259. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ortiz AC, Ashton AD (2016) Exploring shoreface dynamics and a mechanistic explanation for a morphodynamic depth of closure. J Geophys Res F Earth Surf 121:442. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Pelnard-Consideré R (1956) Essai de theorie de l’evolution des formes de rivage en plages de sable et de galets. 4th Journees l’Hydraulique, Les Energies la Mer III:289–298Google Scholar
  36. Priestas AM, Fagherazzi S (2010) Morphological barrier island changes and recovery of dunes after Hurricane Dennis, St. George Island, Florida. Geomorphology 114:614–626. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Rogers LJ, Moore LJ, Goldstein EB et al (2015) Anthropogenic controls on overwash deposition: evidence and consequences. J Geophys Res F Earth Surf 120:2609. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rosati JD, Dean RG, Walton TL (2013) The modified Bruun rule extended for landward transport. Mar Geol 340:71–81. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Splinter KD, Turner IL, Davidson MA et al (2014) A generalized equilibrium model for predicting daily to interannual shoreline response. J Geophys Res Earth Surf 119:1936–1958. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Stive MJF, de Vriend HJ (1995) Modelling shoreface profile evolution. Mar Geol 126:235–248. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Stive MJF, Nicholls RJ, deVriend HJ (1991) Sea-level rise and shore nourishment—a discussion. Coast Eng 16:147–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Stolper D, List JH, Thieler ER (2005) Simulating the evolution of coastal morphology and stratigraphy with a new morphological-behaviour model (GEOMBEST). Mar Geol 218:17–36. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Storms JEA, Weltje GJ, Van Dijke JJ et al (2002) Process-response modeling of wave-dominated coastal systems: simulating evolution and stratigraphy on geological timescales. J Sediment Res 72:226–239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Theuerkauf EJ, Rodriguez AB (2017) Placing barrier-island transgression in a blue-carbon context. Earth’s Futur 5:789. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Walters D, Moore LJ, Duran Vinent O et al (2014) Interactions between barrier islands and backbarrier marshes affect island system response to sea level rise: insights from a coupled model. J Geophys Res Earth Surf 119:2013–2031. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Walton Jr. TL, Dean RG (1973) Application of littoral drift roses to coastal engineering problemsGoogle Scholar
  47. Wolinsky MA (2009) A unifying framework for shoreline migration: 1. Multiscale shoreline evolution on sedimentary coasts. J Geophys Res 114:F01009Google Scholar
  48. Wolinsky MA, Murray AB (2009) A unifying framework for shoreline migration: 2. Application to wave-dominated coasts. J Geophys Res 114:F01009Google Scholar
  49. Wright LD (1995) Morphodynamics of inner continental shelves. CRC Press, Boca RatonGoogle Scholar
  50. Wright LD, Boon JD, Kim SC, List JH (1991) Modes of cross-shore sediment transport on the shoreface of the Middle Atlantic Bight. Mar Geol 96:19–51. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Yates ML, Guza RT, O’Reilly WC (2009) Equilibrium shoreline response: observations and modeling. J Geophys Res 114:C09014. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Zhang K, Douglas BC, Leatherman SP (2004) Global warming and coastal erosion. Clim Chang 64:41–58. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geology and GeophysicsWoods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWoods HoleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Earth and Environmental StudiesMontclair State UniversityMontclairUSA

Personalised recommendations