The relative influence of dune aspect ratio and beach width on dune erosion as a function of storm duration and surge level

Itzkin, Michael; Moore, Laura J.; Ruggiero, Peter; Hacker, Sally D.; Biel, Reuben G.

Dune height is an important predictor of impact during a storm event given that taller dunes have a lower likelihood of being overtopped than shorter dunes. However, the temporal dominance of the wave collision regime, wherein volume loss (erosion) from the dune occurs through dune retreat without overtopping, suggests that dune width must also be considered when evaluating the vulnerability of dunes to erosion. We use XBeach, a numerical model that simulates hydrodynamic processes, sediment transport, and morphologic change, to analyze storm-induced dune erosion as a function of dune aspect ratio (i.e., dune height versus dune width) for storms of varying intensity and duration. We find that low aspect ratio (low and wide) dunes lose less volume than high aspect ratio (tall and narrow) dunes during longer and more intense storms when the beach width is controlled for. In managed dune scenarios, where sand fences are used to construct a “fenced” dune seaward of the existing “natural” dune, we find that fenced dunes effectively prevent the natural dune behind them from experiencing any volume loss until the fenced dune is sufficiently eroded, reducing the magnitude of erosion of the natural dune by up to 50 %. We then control for dune morphology to assess volume loss as a function of beach width and confirm that beach width exerts a significant influence on dune erosion; a wide beach offers the greatest protection from erosion in all circumstances while the width of the dune determines how long the dune will last under persistent scarping. These findings suggest that efforts to maintain a wide beach may be effective at protecting coastal communities from dune loss. However, a trade-off may exist in maintaining wide beaches and dunes in that the protection offered in the short-term must be considered in concert with potentially long-term detrimental effects of limiting overwash, a process which is critical to maintaining island elevation as sea level rises.

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Itzkin, Michael / Moore, Laura J. / Ruggiero, Peter / et al: The relative influence of dune aspect ratio and beach width on dune erosion as a function of storm duration and surge level. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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