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Environmental Science in the Coastal Zone: Issues for Further Research (1994)

Chapter: 4 Coastal Geomorphology by Stephen P. Leatherman, A. Todd Davison...

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Suggested Citation:"4 Coastal Geomorphology by Stephen P. Leatherman, A. Todd Davison...." National Research Council. 1994. Environmental Science in the Coastal Zone: Issues for Further Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2249.
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4
Coastal Geomorphology

Stephen P. Leatherman, A. Todd Davison, Robert J. Nicholls

University of Maryland

College Park, Maryland

INTRODUCTION

Coastal geomorphology, by definition, is the study of the morphological development and evolution of the coast as it acts under the influence of winds, waves, currents, and sea-level changes. This study of physical processes and responses in the coastal zone is often applied in nature, but it also involves basic research to provide the fundamental understanding necessary to address the pertinent questions.

A principal coastal concern today and in the foreseeable future is beach erosion. It is estimated that 70 percent of the world's sandy shorelines are eroding (Bird, 1985). In the United States the percentage may approach 90 percent (Leatherman, 1988). This worldwide extent of erosion suggests that eustatic sea-level rise is an important underlying factor, although many other processes contribute to the problem. In many low-lying coastal areas, human impacts, such as the maintenance of tidal inlets and subsidence induced by groundwater and hydrocarbon withdrawals, have also made a substantial contribution to the erosion problem (National Research Council, 1990). At the same time, coastal populations are burgeoning, and this trend seems set to continue (Culliton et al., 1990). This raises the fundamental question — what is the best response to the problem of shoreline recession?

Faced with progressive shoreline retreat and the inevitable loss of protective and recreational beaches, coastal communities have three basic alternatives: (1) retreat (relocate buildings and other infrastructure in a landward direction), (2) accommodate (e.g., raise buildings to the projected higher flood levels), or (3) protect (build hard structures or use beach nourishment methods). In areas of dense population and highly developed infrastructure, protection is the preferred alternative. Hard structures are costly and inflexible and often have environmentally and aesthetically undesirable effects such as loss of the recreational beach. Thus, beach nourishment has become the coastal management tool of choice over the last several decades (Leatherman, 1991).

To date, it is estimated that over 640 km of U.S. coastline have been nourished, largely through public funding, at a total cost of about $8 billion (Dixon and Pilkey, 1989). The use of beach nourishment as a coastal management tool will probably continue its significant growth over the next few decades. The contemplated economic commitments to this management alternative by federal, state, and local governments is unprecedented. For instance, in northern New Jersey a Congressionally authorized nourishment project proposes to reinstate 19 km of beach at a cost of

Suggested Citation:"4 Coastal Geomorphology by Stephen P. Leatherman, A. Todd Davison...." National Research Council. 1994. Environmental Science in the Coastal Zone: Issues for Further Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2249.
×

approximately $200 million with projected maintenance costs over 50 years of about $300 million (Bocamazo, 1991). Similarly, the total cost of the recently (1991) completed Ocean City, Maryland, nourishment project, including renourishment every four years for 50 years, is estimated at $342 million (Kelly, 1991).

Predictability of the performance of beach nourishment is still poor in spite of its increasing use. This lack of understanding exists because: (1) predictive models of beach behavior in response to varying hydrodynamic forces are still relatively crude tools for engineering purposes and (2) most completed projects did not include adequate post-emplacement monitoring to allow for objective project assessment and necessary adjustment of designs (Davison et al., 1992). Therefore, each beach fill remains, in part, an educated experiment. Although many believe that there is sufficient understanding and inherent flexibility within the procedure to produce practical and successful designs (Delft Hydraulics, 1987), this confidence is not universally accepted.

During the 1980s, because of the actual or perceived failure of numerous projects, beach nourishment began receiving heavy criticism as an ill-advised use of taxpayers' money (e.g., Gilbert, 1986). During this time, several researchers (e.g., Leonard et al., 1989) began to contradict the traditional coastal engineering methods used to design and evaluate such projects. Such criticisms are not isolated, and many coastal environmental groups advocate planned retreat as the only true solution to coastal erosion.

The conclusions of Leonard et al. (1989) have been challenged by many in the scientific and engineering communities (e.g., Strine and Dalrymple, 1989; Houston, 1991a). Nonetheless, contentions from the Pilkey camp have focused attention on the lack of high-quality monitoring of U.S. beach nourishment projects and acted as a catalyst for renewed research efforts. This controversy places beach nourishment in the forefront of public policy decisions in the coastal zone. The basic aim of beach nourishment is to advance the shoreline a given distance and hence realize all the consequent benefits such as increased storm protection. Accurate designs are essential for predicting beach fill longevity and maintenance requirements, which necessitates quantitative understanding of the transport processes. Other pertinent questions involve the volume and grain size of sand required to attain a specific increase in subaerial beach width. Also, what is the lifetime and thus the renourishment frequency of a particular beach?

A major problem is that many of the present design concepts remain relatively untested against actual field performance. A Delft Hydraulics (1987) report summarizes our present understanding: ''an exact forecast of the behavior of the beach fill is not possible, not even in the case where a large number of data of the relevant areas is available''. At the present stage of technology, beach nourishment is more art than science (Egense and Sonu, 1987). The behavior of nourished and natural beaches is subject to the same uncertainties, and Wiegel (1987) argues that our present inadequate quantitative knowledge of natural beach processes handicaps dependable estimates on how well nourished beaches will perform. From a fundamental perspective, future shoreline evolution will always be stochastic, even with complete understanding of all the processes, because the underlying driving forces (e.g., waves, storms) are themselves stochastic (National Research Council, 1990). Thus, probabilistic predictions of nourishment performance must be the goal.

Suggested Citation:"4 Coastal Geomorphology by Stephen P. Leatherman, A. Todd Davison...." National Research Council. 1994. Environmental Science in the Coastal Zone: Issues for Further Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2249.
×

Evaluation of beach nourishment projects requires knowledge of cross-shore sand transport limits as well as delineation of the profile of equilibrium; these are fundamental concepts in coastal geomorphology (Leatherman, 1991). It is not often appreciated that most of the active beach profile is submerged. The entire profile must be moved seaward for nourishment to be successful. Thus, the seaward limit of the active beach profile for the purposes of beach nourishment is a problematic but very important determination (Bruun, 1986). Early nourishment projects did not consider the offshore profile (Jarrett, 1987), or if they did, utilized unrealistic slopes, which caused excessive losses of the subaerial beach (Hansen and Lillycrop, 1988). Hailermeier (1981) developed a wave-based profile zonation, including the depth definition (d1), which he proposed as the seaward limit for beach fill design. Limited field observations support this recommendation (Houston 1991b). The equilibrium profile concept can also be applied to beach nourishment design (Dean, 1983; 1991). But clearly, more field data are required, and routine post-project monitoring should include measuring the entire active profile to the depth of closure, which is generally less than 10 meters of water depth on U.S. coasts. Such basic data as time-series surveys of beach profiles are difficult or impossible to obtain for most of the 155 nourished beaches considered by Pilkey (1988). Therefore, the effectiveness of beach nourishment projects, particularly actual versus predicted performance, is debatable, and substandard sources, such as the local media, have been used to declare project success or failure.

Another problem involved in assessing the performance of beach nourishment is the widespread lack of post-project monitoring by independent, objective parties. Conflicting statements concerning the success or otherwise of beach nourishment are common in the literature (Davison et al., 1992). It is clear that project performance can only be objectively assessed if high-quality monitoring data are available and considered using commonly agreed upon criteria of success and failure (Stauble and Hoel, 1986).

There is also frequently a lack of commitment or inability of project sponsors to properly maintain nourished beaches. This raises important questions about the accreditation of beach nourishment projects, particularly when such projects are being used as a means to potentially lower 100-year flood levels and hence to reduce the cost of federal flood insurance. Also, many states now petition the Federal Emergency Management Agency for funds to restore their eroded beaches after Presidential disaster declarations. Clearly there need to be established criteria for design, maintenance, and financial commitment for the accreditation of beach nourishment projects (Davison, 1992; Davison et al., 1992).

The increasingly developed character of the nation's coastline will undoubtedly lead to increasing demand for beach nourishment. It is hoped that this will be undertaken within the context of sensible management plans. In addition to population and development pressure, accelerated sea-level rise will also increase the demand for beach nourishment (Weggel, 1986; Leatherman and Gaunt, 1989; Stive et al., 1991). This raises a number of new questions, particularly regarding the seaward limit of the beach profile over long time scales and the long-term availability of sufficient sand. These fundamental concepts in coastal geomorphology will undoubtedly receive considerable attention in the coming decades.

Suggested Citation:"4 Coastal Geomorphology by Stephen P. Leatherman, A. Todd Davison...." National Research Council. 1994. Environmental Science in the Coastal Zone: Issues for Further Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2249.
×

REFERENCES

Bird, E. C. F. 1985. Coastline Changes—A Global Review. Chichester, England: John Wiley-Interscience, 219 pp.

Bocamazo, L. 1991. Sea Bright to Manasquan, New Jersey Beach erosion control projects. Shore and Beach 59(3):37-42.

Bruun, P. 1986. Sediment balances (land and sea) with special reference to the Icelandic south coast from Torlakshofen to Dyrholarey. River nourishment of shores—Practical analogies on artificial nourishment. Coastal Engineering 10:193-210.


Culliton, T. J., M. A. Warren., T. R. Goodspeed, D. G. Remer, C. M. Blackwell, and J.J. McDonough, III. 1990. 50 Years of Population Change Along the Nation's Coasts 1960-2010. National Ocean Service. Rockville, Maryland: National Oceanic and Administration.


Davison, A. T. 1992. The National Flood Insurance, Mitigation, and Erosion Management Act of 1991: Background and overview. In Proceedings of the National Conference on Beach Preservation Technology '92. Tallahassee, Florida: Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association.

Davison, A. T., R. J. Nicholls, and S. P. Leatherman. 1992. Beach nourishment as a coastal management tool. Journal of Coastal Research 8:984-1022.

Dean, R. G. 1983. Principles of Beach Nourishment. In P.D. Komar, ed., CRC Handbook of Coastal Processes and Erosion. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press Inc.

Dean, R. G. 1991. Equilibrium beach profiles: Characteristics and applications. Journal of Coastal Research 7:53-84.

Delft Hydraulics. 1987. Manual on Artificial Beach Nourishment. Centre for Civil Engineering Research, Codes and Specifications, Rijkswaterstaat, Report 130.

Dixon, K. and O. H. Pilkey. 1989. Beach Replenishment on the U.S. Coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Pp. 2007-2020 in American Society of Civil Engineers: Proceedings of Coastal Zone '89 Conference , New York, New York.


Egense, A. K. and C. J. Sonu. 1987. Assessment of beach nourishment methodologies. Pp. 4421-4433 in Proceedings Coastal Zone '87. American Society of Civil Engineers, New York.


Gilbert, S. 1986. America washing away. Science Digest 94:28-35, 75, 78.


Hailermeier, R. J. 1981. A profile zonation for seasonal sand beaches from wave climate. Coastal Engineering 4:253-277.

Hansen, M. and W. J. Lillycrop. 1988. Evaluation of closure depth and its role in estimating beach fill volumes. Pp. 107-114 in Proceedings Beach Preservation Technology '88, Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association, Florida.

Houston, J. R. 1991a. Rejoinder To: Discussion of Pilkey and Leonard (1990) [Journal of Coastal Research, 6, 1023 et seq.] and Houston (1990) [Journal of Coastal Research, 6, 1047 et seq.]. Journal of Coastal Research 7: 565-577.

Houston, J. R. 1991b. Ocean City, Maryland, beach fill performance. Annual Meeting of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association, October 18, 1990 (Atlantic City, New Jersey). Shore and Beach 59:15-24.

Suggested Citation:"4 Coastal Geomorphology by Stephen P. Leatherman, A. Todd Davison...." National Research Council. 1994. Environmental Science in the Coastal Zone: Issues for Further Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2249.
×

Jarrett, J. T. 1987. Beach nourishment — A Corps perspective, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Coastal Engineering Research Board 48th Meeting, Savannah, Georgia. District, Pp. 1-3.


Kelly, Jam. Gen. P. 1991. Keynote Address: America Shore and Beach Preservation Association Annual Meeting, October 17, 1990, Atlantic City, New Jersey Shore and Beach, 59(3):3-6.


Leatherman, S. P. 1988. Beach response strategies to accelerated sea-level rise. Pp. 353-358 in proceedings 2nd North American Conference on Preparing for Climate Change. Washington, D.C.: The Climate Institute.

Leatherman, S. P. 1991. Coast and Beaches. Pp. 183-200 in Kiersch, G.A., ed., The Heritage of Engineering Geology; The First Hundred Years. Centennial Special Vol. 3, Boulder, Colorado: Geological Society of America.

Leatherman, S. P. and C. H. Gaunt. 1989. National assessment of beach nourishment requirements associated with accelerated sea level rise. American Society of Civil Engineers: Proceedings of Coastal Zone '89 Conference, New York, NY, pp. 1978-1993.

Leonard, L. A., T. D. Clayton, K. L. Dixon, and O. H. Pilkey. 1989. U.S. beach replenishment experience: A comparison of beach replenishment on the U.S. Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf of Mexico coasts. Pp. 1994-2006 proceedings Coastal Zone '89, American Society of Civil Engineers, New York.


National Research Council. 1990. Managing Coastal Erosion. Marine Board, National Research Council, Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.


Pilkey, O. H. 1988. A "thumbnail method" for beach communities: Estimation of long-term beach replenishment requirements. Shore and Beach 56:23-31.


Stauble, D. K. and J. Hoel. 1986. Physical and Biological Guidelines for Beach Restoration Projects: Part II-Physician engineering Guidelines. Report Number 77. Gainesville, Florida Sea Grant College 100 pp.

Stive, M. J. F., R. J. Nicholls, and H. J. DeVrind. 1991. Sea-level rise and shore nourishment: a discussion. Coastal Engineering 16:147-163.

Strine, M. A., and R. A. Dalrymple. 1989. Beach Fill at Fenwick Island, Delaware. Center for Applied Coastal Research Department of Civil Engineering University of Delaware. Report 89-01. 61 pp.


Weggel, J. R. 1986. Economics of beach nourishment under scenario of rising sea level. Journal of Waterway, Port, Coastal and Ocean Engineering 112:418-427.

Wiegel, R. L. 1987. Trends in coastal engineering management. Shore and Beach, 55(1):2-11.

Suggested Citation:"4 Coastal Geomorphology by Stephen P. Leatherman, A. Todd Davison...." National Research Council. 1994. Environmental Science in the Coastal Zone: Issues for Further Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2249.
×
Page 44
Suggested Citation:"4 Coastal Geomorphology by Stephen P. Leatherman, A. Todd Davison...." National Research Council. 1994. Environmental Science in the Coastal Zone: Issues for Further Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2249.
×
Page 45
Suggested Citation:"4 Coastal Geomorphology by Stephen P. Leatherman, A. Todd Davison...." National Research Council. 1994. Environmental Science in the Coastal Zone: Issues for Further Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2249.
×
Page 46
Suggested Citation:"4 Coastal Geomorphology by Stephen P. Leatherman, A. Todd Davison...." National Research Council. 1994. Environmental Science in the Coastal Zone: Issues for Further Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2249.
×
Page 47
Suggested Citation:"4 Coastal Geomorphology by Stephen P. Leatherman, A. Todd Davison...." National Research Council. 1994. Environmental Science in the Coastal Zone: Issues for Further Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2249.
×
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This book assesses the dimensions of our scientific knowledge as it applies to environmental problems in the coastal zone. The volume contains 10 papers that cover different aspects of science, management, and public policy concerning the coastal zone. A consensus is presented on several key issues confronting science for developing a more holistic approach in managing this region's intense human activities and important natural resources.

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