Short-term morphological change and sediment dynamics in the intertidal zone of a macrotidal beach

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Abstract

This paper describes the morphological and sedimentological evolution of a macrotidal beach over a 20 day period under varying hydrodynamic conditions (significant breaker heights of 0·3–2 m and tidal ranges of 2–5 m). During the field campaign, an intertidal bar developed around the mid-tide level, migrated onshore, welded to the upper beach and was then flattened under energetic wave conditions. The bar had a wave breakpoint origin and its formation was triggered by a reduction in tidal range, causing more stationary water-level conditions, rather than an increase in wave height. Most of the onshore bar migration took place while the bar was positioned in the inner to mid-surf zone position, such that the bar moved away from the breakpoint and exhibited ‘divergent’ behaviour. The depth of disturbance over individual tidal cycles was 10–20% of the breaker height. Such values are more typical of steep reflective beaches, than gently sloping, dissipative beaches, and are considered to reflect the maximum height of wave-generated ripples. The grain size distribution of surficial sediments did not vary consistently across the beach profile and temporal changes in the sedimentology were mostly unrelated to the morphological response. The lack of clear links between beach morphology and sedimentology may be in part due to shortcomings in the sampling methodology, which ignored the vertical variability in the sediment size characteristics across the active layer.

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