Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Dr Rob. L. Evans

» Cape Abilities Partnership

» MT Survey of the East African Rift



» Coastal Change: Drowning of Barrier Beaches

» Mariana Subduction System MT

» Archean Craton Studies: The SAMTEX Experiment

» Coastal and Continental Shelf Electromagnetics

» An EM Survey of Hydrate Mounds

» Mid-Ocean Ridge Research


Drowning of Developed Coastal Barriers: Investigating the Threshold Rates of Sea-level Rise for the Geologic-Human System


Andrew Ashton, Jeff Donnelly, Ilya Buynevich, Porter Hoagland, Hauke Kite-Powell, Di Jin.

Coastal barriers, often idealized by the long chain of barrier islands found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States, are most often found worldwide as spits or local expanses of beach, separated from the mainland but anchored to cliffs, bluffs, or other geologic ‘hard’ structures. These sandy, wave-worked deposits contain a beach, a resource that is particularly valued. Significant amounts of infrastructure are located on barriers, including homes, resort complexes, hotels and roadways. Under natural conditions of moderate sea-level rise, such as the U.S. has experienced during the last few thousand years, barriers appear to have steadily migrated landward, with processes of overwash and breaching transferring sediment onto the backbarrier, allowing the barriers to keep up with rising sea level. Over the next century, however, these barriers face an unknown future. Rates of sea-level rise already exceed those experienced over the last several thousand years, and are predicted to be substantially greater by the end of the century. We propose research to address two key questions: 1) Are there threshold rates of sea-level rise beyond which barriers will drown completely? and 2) Will human responses to sea-level rise mitigate or exacerbate the potential for barrier loss across entire systems?


This project, funded by the Dynamics of Coupled Natural Human Systems program at NSF, is just getting underway. We have already held a meeting with stakeholders and coastal planners at wch we discussed issues related to shoreline change and human intervention and mitigation strategies.

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