Impacts of enhanced central Pacific ENSO on wave climate and headland-bay beach morphology

Thomas R. Mortlock*, Ian D. Goodwin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


Wave climate and Pacific basin coastal behaviour associated with El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is understood at a reconnaissance level, but the coastal response to different central Pacific (CP) versus eastern Pacific (EP) flavours of ENSO is unknown. We show that CP ENSO events produce different patterns of directional wave power to EP ENSO along the southeast Australian shelf and southwest Pacific region, because of significant variability in trade-wind wave generation. The modulation of the trade wind wave climate during CP ENSO has thus far been neglected in existing coastal process studies. We also show that coastal change between CP and EP ENSO cannot be inferred from shifts in the deepwater wave climate. This is because variability in trade wind wave generation is masked in deepwater by the persistence of high power extra-tropical waves that have reduced impact on nearshore processes due to high wave refraction. Morphodynamic modelling in a headland-bay beach indicates that CP ENSO leads to higher coastal erosion potential and slower post-storm recovery than EP ENSO during an El Niño/La Niña cycle. We show that the alongshore variability in beach morphological type can be used to model the static equilibrium planform response for each ENSO phase. Results indicate that shoreline response to ENSO in most headland-bay beach coasts is not as simple as the existing paradigm that (anti-) clockwise rotation occurs during El Niño (La Niña). Our methods provide a second-order approach to project coastal response and predict the discrete shoreline rotations for ENSO flavours.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-25
Number of pages12
JournalContinental Shelf Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


  • ENSO
  • Wave climate
  • Headland-bay beach
  • Coastal processes
  • Sediment transport


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