The Importance of Cyclogenesis on the Short-Term Evolution of Gulf Coast Barriers

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Over the past several years, research has been conducted to determine the importance of cyclones on the morphodynamics and morphological maintenance of barrier islands along the northern Gulf of Mexico. Data are presented indicating the complexity and highly variable response of a 12 km stretch of barrier along the Florida panhandle to cold front passage across the northern Gulf, in addition to the impacts of tropical storms, hurricanes and winter storms in the Gulf of Mexico. Two temporal scales are used to evaluate short-term response and adjustment to these events, i.e., months and a near five year record of sediment volume change, the combination of which have resulted in a time series of change for the subaerial and nearshore environments. These data incorporate the morphological signature of six tropical storms/hurricanes and approximately 100 frontal passages. Three important conclusions have been reached based on these data: (1) low-lying barrier islands, which are vulnerable to overwash, can conserve mass during catastrophic hurricanes (e.g., Hurricane Opal, a strong category 4 hurricane near landfall); (2) less severe hurricanes can promote rapid dune and berm aggradation and contribute sediment to the entire barrier system; and (3) cold fronts play a critical role in the post-storm adjustment of the barrier by deflating the subaerial portion of the overwash terrace and eroding its marginal lobe. The data presented also indicate that barrier systems along the northern Gulf do not necessarily enter an immediate post-storm recovery phase after catastrophic hurricanes, even though they are nested in sediment-rich nearshore environments. It is anticipated that these findings will have important implications for better understanding the longer-term evolution of barrier systems in mid-latitude, micro-tidal settings elsewhere around the globe.

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Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies Transactions, v. 49, p. 478-487

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