Coastal dune systems are natural forms of coastal defence, but are expected to exhibit increased erosion rates due to climate change impacts, notably sea-level rise and, potentially, increased storminess. This is especially the case in embayed coastal settings, i.e., where there are no significant sediment inputs into the beach/dune system from longshore sources. Dune development is closely linked to that of beaches that lie seaward, but their temporal dynamics tend to be asynchronous. So, whereas beaches are generally highly variable over a short- to medium-term (event–decadal) time scales, potentially obscuring a longer-term (decadal–centennial) sea-level signal, dunes display a low-pass filtered response which may contain a sea-level signal. In this study, we investigate the decadal-scale, inter-annual dynamics of 25 embayed coastal dune systems along the exposed and macrotidal north coast of SW England. We then compare the observed behaviour with that hindcasted from simple parametric models and forecast future dune retreat rates due to sea-level rise. We show that practically all exposed dune systems show retreat with a regionally-averaged retreat rate of the dune foot of 0.5 m yr−1. The majority of retreat occurred over a small number of especially energetic winters and it was found that dune retreat is not automatically linked to dune volumetric change. Many of the retreating dune systems display so called ‘dune roll-over’, characterised by removal of sediment from the dune face and deposition at the dune top. Observed dune retreat rates were 2–3 times larger than predicted using simple parametric retreat models forced by sea-level rise. This suggests that the retreat models are inappropriate and/or that sea-level rise in itself may be insufficient to explain the observed retreat and that increased winter storminess may be implicated. A key factor in driving dune retreat is considered to be the number of hours that waves reach the dune foot or the excess runup energy present at the dune foot elevation. Both sea-level rise and enhanced storminess will increase exposure of the dune foot to energetic wave action and this is expected to accelerate dune retreat rates in these settings. Application of parametric shoreline retreat models that account for the acceleration in rate of sea-level rise predicts c. 40 m of dune retreat by 2100 with a considerable range in retreat (20–75 m), resulting from uncertainty in model choice and parameterisation. Simply extrapolating the current dune retreat rate also results in c. 40 m of dune retreat by 2100, but this approach ignores the potential acceleration in dune retreat rate due to an increase in the rate of sea-level rise. The combination of analysis of multi-annual coastal dune morphological change along with application of dune retreat models can provide useful insights into future dune evolution for coastal planners and managers.



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Marine Geology





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School of Biological and Marine Sciences