The Importance of Extratropical and Tropical Cyclones on the Short-Term Evolution of Barrier Islands Along the Northern Gulf of Mexico, USA

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coastal erosion, sediment transport, overwash, hurricanes

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Data are presented indicating the complexity and highly variable response of beaches to cold front passages along the northern Gulf of Mexico, in addition to the impacts of tropical cyclones and winter storms. Within the past decade, an increase in the frequency of tropical storms and hurricanes impacting the northern Gulf has dramatically altered the long-term equilibrium of a large portion of this coast. A time series of net sediment flux for subaerial and nearshore environments has been established for a section of this coast in Florida, and to a lesser extent, Mississippi. The data incorporate the morphological signature of six tropical storms/hurricanes and more than 200 frontal passages.

Data indicate that (1) barrier islands can conserve mass during catastrophic hurricanes (e.g., Hurricane Opal, a strong category 4 hurricane near landfall); (2) less severe hurricanes and tropical storms can promote rapid dune aggradation and can contribute sediment to the entire barrier system; (3) cold fronts play a critical role in the poststorm adjustment of the barrier by deflating the subaerial portion of the overwash terrace and eroding its marginal lobe along the bayside beach through locally generated, high frequency, steep waves; and (4) barrier systems along the northern Gulf do not necessarily enter an immediate poststorm recovery phase, although nested in sediment-rich nearshore environments. While high wave energy conditions associated with cold fronts play an integral role in the evolution and maintenance of barriers along the northern Gulf, these events are more effective in reworking sediment after the occurrence of extreme events such as hurricanes. This relationship is even more apparent during the clustering of tropical cyclones.

It is anticipated that these findings will have important implications for the longer term evolution of barrier systems in midlatitude, microtidal settings where the clustering of storms is apparent, and winter storms are significant in intensity and frequency along the coast.

Citation / Publisher Attribution

Marine Geology, v. 210, issues 1-4, p. 63-78

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