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Evaluating the Long-term Effect of Nourishing Dauphin Island Beaches

Published on: 06/08/2021
Primary Contact(s): trevor.meckley@noaa.gov

Beach nourishment is a common method for rebuilding and maintaining beaches and dunes experiencing erosion from storms and sea level rise (SLR). However, the impacts of nourishment are mostly understood in relatively short-term time frames (i.e., < 10 years). Given limited budgets for coastal protection, it is important to make decisions around beach nourishment with consideration of how sand moves once it is placed, and how it provides protection into the future to the beach nourishment site and surrounding region. NCCOS sponsored research assessed the effectiveness of beach and dune nourishment on barrier island morphological resilience for a 30-year period of beach management.

Typical beach nourishment scene. Credit DredgingToday.com.

The study, published in the journal Water, includes a review of natural barrier island sediment processes. For example during storms, as water levels approach and exceed dunes, sand is transported either through collision (erosion of the dune face with sand deposited offshore) or overwash (overtopping of the dune crest with sand transported landward and deposited on the back barrier). If water levels on both sides of the island exceed the dune crest, breaching may occur, forming an inlet.
Over decadal timescales, barrier islands depend on the accumulation of overwash deposition during individual storm events to migrate landward (rollover) or seaward in response to changes in sea level. Although storms may overwash and destroy natural dune systems, over time, dunes can maintain volume due to natural recovery processes. If a barrier island is unable to keep pace, it may drown by flattening if the island is unable to maintain height, narrowing if the island undergoes rapid shoreline retreat, or deflating (a combination of narrowing and flattening).

On developed barrier islands, shore protection strategies such as beach nourishment are used to reduce flooding, wave attack and erosion during storm events; however, the effects and/or benefits from beach nourishment are often considered temporary, thus requiring periodic maintenance or renourishment. While most studies provide insight into the potential for nourishment to mitigate the short-term (i.e., < 10 years) effects of future storms and elevated water levels, the ability of nourishment to mitigate the long-term effects of multiple storms and SLR remains unknown. This study assessed the effectiveness of beach and dune nourishment on barrier island morphological resilience over a 30-year period using high-resolution process-based modeling.

(a) Study area with synthetic storm tracks for a 30-year realization and (b) initial (Year 0) XBeach model bed level elevations (in meters, relative to NAVD88) at Dauphin Island. Base map layer in (a) provided by ESRI. Credit Passeri et al., 2021.

The study was centered on Dauphin Island, a low-lying barrier island located offshore of the State of Alabama coast. The island has been severely impacted by extreme storm events including Hurricane Ivan (2004) which caused extensive overwash and Hurricane Katrina (2005) which breached the middle of the island. The eastern section of the island is developed with homes and infrastructure, has well developed dunes and has undergone frequent nourishment after storm events. The western section is undeveloped and lower in elevation with smaller dunes; historically, nourishment activities have not occurred there. Due to its low elevation, future hazards such as SLR and storms may increase inundation, overwash and loss of land on Dauphin Island.

The study used an integrated modeling approach incorporating three models to simulate barrier island evolution over decadal time scales including fairweather conditions, storm-driven change and post-storm dune recovery. The cumulative effects of beach nourishment were assessed over a 30-year simulated period to determine how beach nourishment can influence barrier island resiliency over long time scales, including the effects of SLR.

Results showed the 30-year nourishment modeling scenario helped to maintain island volumes by increasing barrier height and width compared with the no-nourishment scenario. During storms when collision was dominant, higher volumes of sand were lost from the wider beach in the nourishment scenario than in the no-action scenario. During stronger storms, nourishment reduced dune overtopping, allowing the island to maintain height and width, whereas the no-action scenario resulted in island rollover (moving the island landward) and decreased island height. Nourishment was particularly effective in reducing erosion and breaching during back-to-back storms occurring in the same year.

Results of this study provide insights to how beach and dune nourishment can improve morphological resilience by maintaining barrier island geometry and volume over decadal timescales. Future efforts assessing the dynamic effects of SLR and the ability of nourishment to improve barrier island resiliency can benefit from these insights.

This study was led by scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, University of Georgia, Louisiana State University, The Water Institute of the Gulf and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Support was provided, in part, by the NCCOS Effects of Sea Level Rise project Dynamic Sea Level Rise Assessments of the Ability of Natural and Nature-Based Features to Mitigate Surge and Nuisance Flooding.

Citation: Passeri, Davina L., Matthew Bilskie, Scott C. Hagen, Rangley C. Mickey, P. Soupy Dalyander and Victor M. Gonzalez. 2021. Assessing the Effectiveness of Nourishment in Decadal Barrier Island Morphological Resilience. Water 13(7), 944. https://doi.org/10.3390/w13070944


Rebuilt dune with planted vegetation. Satellite Beach, FL. April 28, 2018. Credit John Wickham, NOAA.

Dauphin Island looking westward with the inhabited eastern portion in the foreground and the uninhabited western portion beyond the inlet (Katrina Cut). Credit La Grande Louisiane Francaise.

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