• Open Access

Observed changes in hurricane-driven waves explain the dynamics of modern cuspate shorelines



[1] A comparison between historical and recent shoreline-change rates on the U.S. east coast (based on observed shoreline positions from the last century and a half) shows that emergent, large-scale, cuspate coastline features are changing shape, becoming more asymmetrical. This change in coastline shape arises from spatial shifts in the location of erosion and accretion zones. Using a numerical model of coastline change forced by wave-driven alongshore sediment flux, we show that a previously identified shift in hurricane-generated wave climate explains the patterns of coastline change we observe. Our results reveal a previously unrecognized type of large-scale, chronic landscape response to changing forcing. Though demonstrated here for a cuspate coastline, similar large-scale morphological adjustments are likely to occur along coastlines of varying morphology in the future—as global warming continues, along with the associated intensification of storms. Our approach allows for constraining and predicting future shifts in coastline shape.