Post-storm beach and dune recovery: Implications for barrier island resilience

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Barrier island, Hurricane, Post-storm recovery, Resilience


The ability of beaches and dunes to recover following an extreme storm is a primary control of barrier island response to sea-level rise and changes in the frequency and/or magnitude of storm surges. Whereas erosion of the beach and dune occurs over hours and days, it can be years to decades before the beach and dune are able to recover to their pre-storm state. As a consequence, there are numerous descriptions of near-instantaneous beach and dune erosion due to storms, the immediate onshore transport of sand, and the initial phases of beach and dune recovery following a storm, but a paucity of data on long-term beach and dune recovery. A combination of previously published data from Galveston Island, Texas and new remotely sensed data from Santa Rosa Island, Florida is used in the present study to quantify the rate of dune recovery for dissipative and intermediate beach types, respectively. Recovery of the dune height and volume on Galveston Island was observed within two years following Hurricane Alicia (1983) and was largely complete within six years of the storm, despite extensive washover. In contrast, the dunes on Santa Rosa Island in Northwest Florida began to recover four years after Hurricane Ivan (2004), and only after the profile approached its pre-storm level and the rate of vegetation recovery (regrowth) was at a maximum. Results show that complete recovery of the largest dunes (in height and volume) will take approximately 10. years on Santa Rosa Island, which suggests that these sections of the island are particularly vulnerable to significant change in island morphology if there is also a change in the frequency and magnitude of storm events. In contrast, the areas of the island with the smallest dunes before Hurricane Ivan exhibited a rapid recovery, but no further growth in profile volume and dune height beyond the pre-storm volume and height, despite continued recovery of the largest dunes to their pre-storm height. A change in storm magnitude and/or frequency is a potential threat to barrier island resilience, particularly for those sections of the island where dune recovery has historically taken the longest time. Further study is required to determine how and why dune recovery varies for the dissipative and intermediate beaches of Galveston Island and Santa Rosa Island, respectively. © 2015 Elsevier B.V.