Morphological Inheritance in Sandy Coastline Morphologies Subject to Long-Term Changes in Wave Climate: Surprising Insights from a Coastline Evolution Model
Abstract:Recent numerical modelling demonstrates that when sandy coastlines are affected predominantly by waves approaching from “high” angles (> ~45° between the coastline and wave crests at the offshore limit of shore-parallel contours), large-scale (kms to 100 kms) morphodynamic instabilities and finite-amplitude interactions can lead to the emergence of striking coastline features, including sand waves, capes and spits. The type of feature that emerges depends on the wave climate, defined as the angular distribution of wave influences on alongshore sediment transport. Under a constant wave climate, coastline morphology reaches a dynamical steady state; the cross-shore/alongshore aspect ratio and the general appearance of the features remains constant. In previous modelling involving wave-climate change, as well as comparisons between observed coastline morphologies and wave climates, it has been implicitly assumed that the morphology adjusts in a quasi-equilibrium fashion, so that at any time the coastline shape reflects the current forcing.
However, here we present new model results showing pronounced path dependence in coastline morphodynamics. In experiments with a period of constant wave climate followed by a period of transition to a new wave climate and then a run-on phase, the features that exist during the run-on phase can be qualitatively and quantitatively different from those that would develop initially under the final wave climate. Although the features inherited from the past wave-climate history may in some case be true alternate stable states, in other cases the inherited features gradually decay toward the morphology that would be expected given the final wave climate. A suite of such experiments allows us to characterize how the e-folding timescale of this decay depends on 1) the initial wave climate, 2) the path through wave-climate space, and 3) the rate of transition. When the initial features are flying spits with cross-shore amplitudes of 6 – 8 km, e-folding times can be on the order of millennia or longer. These results could provide a new perspective when interpreting current and past coastline features. In addition, the complex paleo-coastline structure that develops in the coastal hinterlands in these experiments could be relevant to the structures observed in some coastal environments.