Lateral vegetation growth rates exert control on coastal foredune
hummockiness and coalescing time
Abstract. Coastal foredunes form along sandy, low-sloped coastlines and range in shape from continuous dune ridges to hummocky features, which are characterized by alongshore-variable dune crest elevations. Initially scattered dune-building plants and species that grow slowly in the lateral direction have been implicated as a cause of foredune
hummockiness. Our goal in this work is to explore how the initial configuration of vegetation and vegetation growth characteristics control the development of hummocky coastal dunes including the maximum hummockiness of a given dune field. We find that given sufficient time and absent external forcing, hummocky foredunes coalesce to form continuous dune ridges. Model results yield a predictive rule for the timescale of coalescing and the height of the coalesced dune that depends on initial plant dispersal and two parameters that control the lateral and vertical growth of vegetation, respectively. Our findings agree with previous observational and conceptual work – whether or not hummockiness will be maintained depends on the timescale of coalescing relative to the recurrence interval of high-water events that reset dune building in low areas between hummocks. Additionally, our model reproduces the observed tendency for foredunes to be hummocky along the southeast coast of the US where lateral vegetation growth rates are slower and thus coalescing times are likely longer.