Coarse-grained beaches, such as pure gravel (PG), mixed sand-gravel (MSG) and composite (CSG) beaches, can be considered as one of the most resilient non-cohesive morpho-sedimentary coastal environments to energetic wave forcing (e.g., storms). The hydraulically-rough and permeable nature of gravel (D50 > 2 mm), together with the steep (reflective) beach face, provide efficient mechanisms of wave energy dissipation in the swash zone and provide a natural means of coastal defence. Despite their potential for shore protection very little is known about the response of these environments during high energetic wave conditions. Field measurements of sediment transport and hydrodynamics on coarse-grained beaches are difficult, because there are few instruments capable of taking direct measurements in an energetic swash zone in which large clasts are moving, and significant morphological changes occur within a short period of time. Remote sensing methods emerge in this context as the most appropriate solution for these types of field measurement. A new remote sensing method, based around a mid-range (~ 50 m) 2D laser-scanner was developed, which allows the collection of swash zone hydrodynamics (e.g., vertical and horizontal runup position, swash depth and velocity) and bed changes on wave-by-wave time scale. This instrument allowed the complete coverage of the swash zone on several coarse-grained beaches with a vertical accuracy of approximately 0.015 m and an average horizontal resolution of 0.07 m. The measurements performed with this new methodology are within the accuracy of traditional field techniques (e.g. video cameras, ultrasonic bed-level sensors or dGPS). Seven field experiments were performed between March 2012 and January 2014 on six different coarse-grained beaches (Loe Bar, Chesil, Slapton, Hayling Island, Westward Ho! and Seascale), with each deployment comprising the 2D laser-scanner together with complementary in-situ instrumentation (e.g., pressure transducer, ADV current meter). These datasets were used to explore the hydrodynamics and morphological response of the swash zone of these different environments under different energetic hydrodynamic regimes, ranging from positive, to zero, to negative freeboard regimes. With reference to the swash zone dynamics under storms with positive freeboard regimes (when runup was confined to the foreshore) it was found that extreme runup has an inverse relationship with the surf scaling parameter (=2Hs /gTptan2). The highest vertical runup excursions were found on the steepest beaches (PG beaches) and under long-period swell, while lower vertical runup excursions where linked to short-period waves and beaches with intermediate and dissipative surf zones, thus demonstrating that the contrasting degree of wave dissipation observed in the different types of surf zones is a key factor that control the extreme runup on coarse-grained beaches. Contrasting morphological responses were observed on the different coarse-grained beaches as a result of the distinct swash\surf zone hydrodynamics. PG beaches with narrow surf zone presented an asymmetric morphological response during the tide cycle (accretion during the rising and erosion during the falling tide) as a result of beach step adjustments to the prevailing hydrodynamics. On dissipative MSG and CSG beaches the morphological response was limited due to the very dissipative surf zone, while on an intermediate CSG beach significant erosion of the beach face and berm was observed during the entire tide cycle as a result of the absence of moderate surf zone wave dissipation and beach step dynamics. Fundamental processes related to the link between the beach step dynamics and the asymmetrical morphological response during the tidal cycle were for the first time measured under energetic wave conditions. During the rising tide the onshore shift of the breaking point triggers the onshore translation of the step and favors accretion (step deposit development), while during the falling tide the offshore translation of the wave breaking point triggers retreat of the step and favours backwash sediment transport (erosion of the step deposit). Under zero and negative freeboard storm regimes (when runup exceeds the crest of the barrier or foredune), field measurements complimented by numerical modelling (Xbeach-G) provide clear evidence that the presence of a bimodal wave spectrum enhances the vertical runup and can increase the likelihood of the occurrence of overtopping and overwash events over a gravel barrier. Most runup equations (e.g., Stockdon et al., 2006) used to predict the thresholds for storm impact regime (e.g., swash, overtopping and overwash) on barriers lack adequate characterisation of the full wave spectra; therefore, they may miss important aspects of the incident wave field, such as wave bimodality. XBeach-G allows a full characterization of the incident wave field and is capable of predicting the effect of wave spectra bimodality on the runup, thus demonstrating that is a more appropriate tool for predicting the storm impact regimes on gravel barriers. Regarding the definition of storm impact regimes on gravel barriers, it was found that wave period and wave spectra bimodality are key parameters that can affect significantly the definition of the thresholds for these different regimes. While short-period waves dissipate most of their energy before reaching the swash zone (due to breaking) and produce short runup excursions, long-period waves arrive at the swash zone with enhanced heights (due to shoaling) and break at the edge of the swash, thus promoting large runup excursions. When offshore wave spectrum presents a bimodal shape, the wave transformation on shallow waters favours the long period peak (even if the short-period peak is the most energetic offshore) and large runup excursions occur. XBeach-G simulations show that the morphological response of fine gravel barriers is distinct from coarse gravel barriers under similar overtopping conditions. While on coarser barriers overtopping regimes are expected to increase the crest elevation and narrow the barrier, on fine barriers sedimentation occurs on the back of the barrier and in the lower beach face. Such different sedimentation patterns are attributed to the different hydraulic conductivity of the different sediment sizes which control the amount of flow dissipation (due to infiltration) and, therefore, the capacity of the flow to transport sediment across and over the barrier crest. The present findings have significantly improved our conceptual understanding of the response of coarse-grained beaches during storms. A new field technique to measure swash dynamics in the field was developed during this thesis and has great potential to become widely used in a variety of coastal applications.

Document Type


Publication Date