Mesoscale geomorphic change on low-energy barrier islands in Chesapeake Bay, USA.

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This paper presents an analysis of decadal (mesoscale) geomorphic change on sandy barrier islands in thefetch-limited environment of Chesapeake Bay. Low energy barrier islands exist in two settings: on the fringe of marshes and in open water and this analysis shows the various types of barrier island to be genetically related.Barrier islands that face the dominant wind and wave direction (E or W) retreat via barrier translation, preserving the barrier island volume. Those that exist in re-entrants are dominated by longshore transport processes, are strongly affected by sediment supply and are subject to disintegration.Marsh fringe barrier islands are perched on or draped over the surface of the underlying marsh. They migrate landwards via barrier translation during periodic high water events accompanied by large waves (hurricanes and northeasters). The underlying marsh surface erodes under all water levels and the rate of retreat of the barrier island and underlying marsh may take place at different rates, leading to various configurations from perched barrier islands several metres landward of themarsh edge, to barrier islands that have a sandy shoreface extending into the subtidal zone. The coastal configuration during landward retreat of marsh fringe barrier islands is subject to strong local control exerted by the underyling marsh topography. As erosion ofmarsh promontories occurs and marsh creeks are intersected and bypassed, the configuration is subject to rapid change. Periodic sediment influxes cause spits to develop at re-entrants in themarsh. The spits are initiated as extensions of adjacentmarsh fringe barrier islands, but as the sediment volumeis finite, the initial drift-aligned spits become sediment-starved and begin to develop a series of swash-aligned cells as they strive formorphodynamic equilibrium.The individual cells are stretched until breaches form in the barrier islands, creating inlets with tidal deltas. At this stage the low energy barrier islands closely resemble open ocean barrier islands. Continued reworking leads towidening of the inletswith consequent loss of constriction of tidal flow. The tidal deltas are, thus, no longermaintained and ultimately the island systemdisintegrates through inlet widening and is transformed to subtidal shoals. Barrier islands at various stages in this evolutionary cycle can be observed around the bay. Mid-bay barrier islands are affected by wave processes from both sides. This helps maintain the barrier island form and enables barrier islands to persist as sediment is exchanged between both sides of the island.Rates of barrier island translation are extremely high (up to 30 m/year over a 12 year period). This is attributed to the lowvolume of sand, which facilitates complete rollover in short periods. Accelerated sea level rise is likely to hasten the translation rates ofmarsh fringe barrier islands. The rapid disintegration ofmost spits compared to the persistence of marsh fringe barrier islands points to a reliance on the marsh as a stabilising point. If the marshes are overstepped by rising sea level as appears to be happening, the complete disintegration of the barrier islands is highly likely.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-94
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Sept 2013


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