Extreme storms are responsible for rapid changes to coastlines worldwide. During the 2013/14 winter, the west coast of Europe experienced a sequence of large, storm-induced wave events, representing the most energetic period of waves in the last 60 years. The southwest coast of England underwent significant geomorphological change during that period, but exhibited a range of spatially variable and complex morphological responses, despite being subjected to the same storm sequence. The 2013/14 storm response along the southwest coast of England was first used as a natural field laboratory to explain the variability in storm response through the introduction and evaluation of a new classification of how sandy and gravel beaches respond to extreme storms. Cluster analysis was conducted using an unique data set of pre- and post-storm airborne Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data from 157 beach sites and the calculation of volumetric beach changes and a novel parameter, the longshore variation index which quantifies the alongshore morphological variability in beach response. The method used can be applied to any sandy and gravel beaches where topographic data with sufficient spatial resolution is available. Four main beach response types were identified that ranged from large and alongshore uniform offshore sediment losses up to 170 m3 m-1 (at exposed, cross-shore dominated sites) to considerable alongshore sediment redistribution but limited net sediment change (at more sheltered sites with oblique waves). The key factors in determining the type of beach response are: exposure to the storm waves, angle of storm wave approach and the degree to which the beach is embayed. These findings provide crucial information for the development of coastal studies at regional scale, especially along coastal areas where abrupt changes in coastline orientation can be observed. A 10-year time series (2007–2017) of supra- and intertidal beach volume from exposed and cross-shore transport-dominated sites was used to examine the extent to which beach behaviour is coherent over a relatively large region (100-km stretch of coast) and predictably coupled to incident wave forcing. Over the study period, 10 beaches, exposed to similar wave/tide conditions, but having different sediment characteristics, beach lengths and degrees of embaymentisation, showed coherent and synchronous variations in sediment volumes, albeit at different magnitudes. This result is crucial for studying coastal changes in remote coastal areas or in areas where only few topographic data are available. The sequence of extreme storms of the 2013/14 winter, which represents the most erosive event over at least a decade along most of the Atlantic coast of Europe, is included in the data set, and three years after this winter, beach recovery is still on-going for some of the 10 beaches. Post-storm beach recovery was shown to be mainly controlled by post-storm winter wave conditions, while summer conditions consistently contributed to modest beach recovery. Skilful hindcasts of regional changes in beach volume were obtained using an equilibrium-type shoreline model, demonstrating that beach changes are coherently linked to changes in the offshore wave climate and are sensitive to the antecedent conditions. Furthermore, a good correlation was found between the beach volume changes and the new climate index WEPA (West Europe Pressure Anomaly), which offers new perspectives for the role and the use of climatic variations proxies to forecast coastline evolution. A process based model, XBeach, was used to model storm response at one macrotidal beach characterized by the largest sediment losses during the 2013/14 sequence of extreme storms. Beach volume changes were modelled over hypothetical scenarios with varying hydrodynamics conditions and beach states to investigate the relative roles of hydrodynamic forcing (i.e., waves and tides), beach antecedent state and beach-dune morphology in beach response to extreme storms. This modelling approach is applicable to any beach system where process based models have been implemented. Beside significant wave height and peak wave period, the beach antecedent state was shown to be the dominant factor in controlling the volumes of sediment erosion and accretion along this cross-shore dominated beach. Modelled volumes of erosion were, on average, up to three times higher along an accreted beach compared to an eroded beach for the same wave conditions. The presence of a dune, being only significantly active during spring tides and storm conditions along this macrotidal beach, was shown to reduce erosion or even cause accretion along the intertidal beach. This work provides a detailed, quantitative insight of the hydrodynamic and morphological processes involved in storm response and beach recovery on a number of spatial and temporal scales. This improved understanding of the potential impact of extreme events will hopefully aid future research efforts and ensure effective management of sedimentary coastlines.

Document Type


Publication Date




Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License.