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Internal architecture and evolution of bioclastic beach ridges in a megatidal chenier plain: Field data and wave flume experiment



Beach ridges in macrotidal environments experience strong multi-annual to multi-decennial fluctuations of tidal inundation. The duration of tide flooding directly controls the duration of sediment reworking by waves, and thus the ridge dynamics. Flume modelling was used to investigate the impact of low-frequency tidal cycles on beach ridge evolution and internal architecture. The experiment was performed using natural bioclastic sediment, constant wave parameters and low-frequency variations of the mean water level. The morphological response of the beach ridge to water level fluctuations and the preservation of sedimentary structures were monitored by using side-view and plan-view photographs. Results were compared with the internal architecture of modern bioclastic beach ridges in a macrotidal chenier plain (Mont St. Michel Bay, France) surveyed with ground-penetrating radar. The experimentally obtained morphologies and internal structures matched those observed in the field, and the three ridge development stages identified in ground-penetrating radar profiles (early transgressive, late transgressive and progradational) were modelled successfully. Flume experiments indicate that flat bioclastic shapes play a key role in sediment sorting in the breaker zone, and in sediment layering in the beach and washover fans. Water level controls washover geometry, beach ridge evolution and internal structure. Low water levels allow beach ridge stabilization and sediment accumulation lower on tidal flats. During subsequent water level rise, accumulated sediment becomes available for deposition of new washover units and for bayward extension of the beach ridges. In the field, low-frequency water level fluctuations are related to the 4·4 year and 18·6 year tidal cycles. Experimental results suggest that these cycles may represent the underlying factor in the evolution of the macrotidal chenier coast at the multi-decadal to centennial time scale.