Articles | Volume 2, issue 1
Research article
23 Apr 2014
Research article |  | 23 Apr 2014

Coastal vulnerability of a pinned, soft-cliff coastline, II: assessing the influence of sea walls on future morphology

A. Barkwith, M. D. Hurst, C. W. Thomas, M. A. Ellis, P. L. Limber, and A. B. Murray

Abstract. Coastal defences have long been employed to halt or slow coastal erosion, and their impact on local sediment flux and ecology has been studied in detail through field research and numerical simulation. The non-local impact of a modified sediment flux regime on mesoscale erosion and accretion has received less attention. Morphological changes at this scale due to defending structures can be difficult to quantify or identify with field data. Engineering-scale numerical models, often applied to assess the design of modern defences on local coastal erosion, tend not to cover large stretches of coast and are rarely applied to assess the impact of older structures. We extend previous work to explore the influences of sea walls on the evolution and morphological sensitivity of a pinned, soft-cliff, sandy coastline under a changing wave climate. The Holderness coast of East Yorkshire, UK, is used as a case study to explore model scenarios where the coast is both defended with major sea walls and allowed to evolve naturally were there are no sea defences.

Using a mesoscale numerical coastal evolution model, observed wave-climate data are perturbed linearly to assess the sensitivity of the coastal morphology to changing wave climate for both the defended and undefended scenarios. Comparative analysis of the simulated output suggests that sea walls in the south of the region have a greater impact on sediment flux due to increased sediment availability along this part of the coast. Multiple defence structures, including those separated by several kilometres, were found to interact with each other, producing complex changes in coastal morphology under a changing wave climate. Although spatially and temporally heterogeneous, sea walls generally slowed coastal recession and accumulated sediment on their up-drift side.