Intertidal Sandbar Welding as a Primary Source of Sediment for Dune Growth: Evidence from a Large Scale Field Experiment

Nicholas Cohn, Peter Ruggiero, Sierd de Vries

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractScientific


Dunes provide the first line of defense from elevated water levels in low-lying coastal systems, limiting potentially major flooding, economic damages, and loss of livelihood. Despite the well documented importance of healthy dunes, our predictive ability of dune growth, particularly following erosive storm events, remains poor – resulting in part from traditionally studying the wet and dry beach as separate entities. In fact, however, dune recovery and growth is closely tied to the subtidal morphology and the nearshore hydrodynamic conditions, necessitating treating the entire coastal zone from the shoreface to the backshore as an integrated system. In this context, to further improve our understanding of the physical processes allowing for beach and dune growth during fair weather conditions, a large field experiment, the Sandbar-aEolian Dune EXchange EXperiment, was performed in summer 2016 in southwestern Washington, USA. Measurements of nearshore and atmospheric hydrodynamics, in-situ sediment transport, and morphology change provide insight into the time and space scales of nearshore-beach-dune exchanges along a rapidly prograding stretch of coast over a 6 week period.

As part of this experiment, the hypothesis that dune growth is limited by the welding of intertidal sandbars to the shoreline (Houser, 2009) was tested. Using laser particle counters, bed elevation sensors (sonar altimeters and Microsoft Kinect), continuously logging sediment traps, RGB and IR cameras, and repeat morphology surveys (terrestrial lidar, kite based structure from motion, and RTK GPS), spatial and temporal trends in aeolian sediment transport were assessed in relation to the synoptic onshore migration and welding of intertidal sandbars. Observations from this experiment demonstrate that (1) the intertidal zone is the primary source of sediment to the dunes during non-storm conditions, (2) rates of saltation increase during later stages of bar welding but equivalent wind conditions, and (3) alongshore variability in rates of backshore fluxes appear to be related to alongshore variability in intertidal morphology. These observations quantitatively support the Houser (2009) bar welding hypothesis and provide valuable new insights on nearshore-beach-dune sediment exchanges
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventAGU fall meeting 2016 - San Francisco, United States
Duration: 12 Dec 201616 Dec 2016


ConferenceAGU fall meeting 2016
Abbreviated titleAGU 2016
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Francisco
Internet address


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