Spatial distribution of water level impacting back-barrier bays
Water level in semi-enclosed bays, landward of barrier islands, is mainly driven by offshore sea level fluctuations that are modulated by bay geometry and bathymetry, causing spatial variability in the ensuing response (transfer). Local wind setup can have a complementary role that depends on wind speed, fetch, and relative orientation of the wind direction and the bay. Bay area and inlet geometry and bathymetry primarily regulate the magnitude of the transfer between open ocean and bay. Tides and short-period offshore oscillations are more damped in the bays than longer-lasting offshore fluctuations, such as a storm surge and sea level rise. We compare observed and modeled water levels at stations in a mid-Atlantic bay (Barnegat Bay) with offshore water level proxies. Observed water levels in Barnegat Bay are compared and combined with model results from the Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere–Wave–Sediment Transport (COAWST) modeling system to evaluate the spatial structure of the water level transfer. Analytical models based on the dimensional characteristics of the bay are used to combine the observed data and the numerical model results in a physically consistent approach. Model water level transfers match observed values at locations inside the bay in the storm frequency band (transfers ranging from 50 %–100 %) and tidal frequencies (10 %–55 %). The contribution of frequency-dependent local setup caused by wind acting along the bay is also considered. The wind setup effect can be comparable in magnitude to the offshore transfer forcing during intense storms. The approach provides transfer estimates for locations inside the bay where observations were not available, resulting in a complete spatial characterization. An extension of the methodology that takes advantage of the ADCIRC tidal database for the east coast of the United States allows for the expansion of the approach to other bay systems. Detailed spatial estimates of water level transfer can inform decisions on inlet management and contribute to the assessment of current and future flooding hazard in back-barrier bays and along mainland shorelines.