Overwash-dominated stratigraphy of barriers with intermittent inlets

Andrew Green, Talisha Pillay, Andrew Cooper, Emilia Guisado-Pintado

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6 Citations (Scopus)
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The morphodynamics and structure of barriers with persistent tidal inlets have been well studied. In contrast the stratigraphy and functioning of barrier systems with ephemeral inlets is poorly understood. This article examines the barrier-inlet systems of two intermittently closed open lagoons or temporarily open closed estuaries on the east coast of South Africa. Multiple geophysical surveys using ground-penetrating radar (GPR) were correlated with exposed sections of the barrier where inlet formation revealed the internal stratigraphy. Stratigraphic observations were placed in the context of the contemporary wave dynamics and mesoscale geomorphic evolution. The integrated databases reveal an absence of migrating channel features. Instead the stratigraphy is dominated by landward dipping sheets of alternating high- and low-amplitude reflectors. These correlate with gravel, shell debris and heavy mineral-lined beds formed by overwash processes. Where ephemeral inlet structures are preserved in the stratigraphy, their fills comprise aggrading, high-amplitude reflectors, linked to washover infilling of the inlet mouth. Multiple small channels in the more distal portions of the barrier in georadar stratigraphy are related to channelized washover flow. These barriers often breach during high swell and are subsequently sealed during fairweather wave conditions. Time series analysis of waves and satellite imagery shows a link between storms from the south and breach events. This is consistent with the truncations in subsurface images and inferred barrier lowering by overwash channelling. These barriers experience quasi-stable oscillations in their landward and seaward shore position, punctuated by periods of barrier rollover associated with the most intense storms. As overwash is responsible in part for both the constructive and destructive phases of the barrier, these barriers have low preservation potential. Persistent rollover driven by overwashing will terminate once accommodation space is eliminated and the barriers are eroded by storm activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2097-2111
Number of pages15
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number11
Early online date9 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 15 Sept 2019


  • barrier stratigraphy
  • ground-penetrating radar
  • intermittent inlets
  • overwash


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