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Keywords:

  • Fringing reef;
  • GSTA;
  • La Reunion;
  • sedimentary dynamics;
  • swell impact

Abstract

Two surface-sediment sampling campaigns were carried out in November and December 2003, before and after a strong swell event, in the back-reef area of a microtidal fringing reef on the western coast of La Reunion, Indian Ocean. The spatial distributions of the mean grain size, sorting and skewness parameters are determined, and grain-size trend analysis is performed to estimate the main sediment transport pathways in the reef. The results of this analysis are compared with hydrodynamic records obtained in the same reef area during fair weather conditions and during swell events. Sediment dynamics inferred from the hydrodynamic records show that significant sediment erosion and transport occur only during swell events and under strongly agitated sea states. Under normal wave conditions, there is a potential for onshore sediment transport from the reef-flat to the back-reef, but this transport is episodic and occurs principally during high-tide stages. Sediment transport trends revealed by the grain-size trend analysis method show onshore and alongshore low-energy transport processes that are in agreement with the hydrodynamic records. The grain-size trend analysis method also provides evidence of an offshore high-energy transport trend that could be interpreted as a real physical process associated with return flow from the shore to the reef. The impact of swell on the reef sediment dynamics is clearly demonstrated by onshore and alongshore transport. Considering different combinations of the vector transport trends computed through the grain-size trend analysis approach, more realistic and pertinent results can be obtained by applying an exclusive OR operation (XOR case) on the vectors. The main results presented here highlight a trend towards the accumulation of carbonate sands in the back-reef area of the fringing reef. These sediments can only be resuspended during extreme events such as storms or tropical cyclones.