Theoretical and measured aeolian sand transport on a barrier island, Louisiana, USA



Over the past 100 years, the Isles Dernieres, a low lying barrier island chain along the coast of central Louisiana, Usa, has undergone more than 1 km of northward beach face retreat with the loss of 70% of its surface area. The erosion results from a long term relative sea level rise coupled with day to day wind and wave action that ultimately favours erosion over deposition. At a site in the central Isles Dernieres, 8 days of wind and beach profile measurements during the passage of one winter cold front documented aeolian erosion and deposition patterns under both onshore and offshore winds. For offshore winds, the theoretical erosion rate, based on wind shear velocity, closely matched the measured erosion rate; for onshore winds, the theoretical rate matched the measured rate only after being corrected by a factor that accounted for beach face morphology.

In late February 1989, a strong cold front moved into coastal Louisiana. That cold front stalled over the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in 4 days of strong northerly winds at a study site on the Isles Dernieres. During those 4 days, the wind moved sand from the backshore to the upper beach face. When the cold front finally moved out of the area, the wind shifted to the south and decreased in strength. The onshore wind then restored some of the upper beach face sand to the backshore while increased wave activity moved the rest into the nearshore.

The theoretical estimate of 1·28 m3 m−1 for the rate of sand transport by the northerly wind compares well with the measured backshore erosion rate of 1·26 m3 m−1, which was determined by comparing beach profiles from the start and end of the period of northerly winds. The theoretical estimate of 0·04 m3 m−1 for the rate of sand transport by the southerly wind, however, is notably less than the measured rate of 0·45 m3 m−1. The large discrepancy between the two rates can be explained by a difference in the shear velocity of the wind between the beach face, where the erosion occurred, and the backshore, where the wind stress was measured. Using an empirical relationship for the wind shear drag coefficient as a function of coastal environment, the theoretical estimate for the rate of sand transport by the southerly wind becomes 0·44 m3 m−1