On a neck, on a spit: controls on the shape of free spits
Abstract. We investigate the controls upon the shape of freely extending spits using a one-contour-line model of shoreline evolution. In contrast to existing frameworks that suggest that spits are oriented in the direction of alongshore sediment transport and that wave refraction around the spit end is the primary cause of recurving, our results suggest that spit shoreline shapes are perhaps best understood as graded features arising from a complex interplay between distinct morphodynamic elements: the headland updrift of the spit, the erosive "neck" (which may be overwashing), and the depositional "hook". Between the neck and the hook lies a downdrift-migrating "fulcrum point" which tends towards a steady-state trajectory set by the angle of maximum alongshore sediment transport. Model results demonstrate that wave climate characteristics affect spit growth; however, we find that the rate of headland retreat exerts a dominant control on spit shape, orientation, and progradation rate. Interestingly, as a spit forms off of a headland, the rate of sediment input to the spit itself emerges through feedbacks with the downdrift spit end, and in many cases faster spit progradation may coincide with reduced sediment input to the spit itself. Furthermore, as the depositional hook rests entirely beyond the maximum in alongshore sediment transport, this shoreline reach is susceptible to high-angle wave instability throughout and, as a result, spit depositional signals may be highly autogenic.