Wave direction shift triggered severe erosion of beaches in estuaries and bays with limited post-storm recovery

Shari L. Gallop*, Ana Vila-Concejo, Thomas E. Fellowes, Mitchell D. Harley, Maryam Rahbani, John L. Largier

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)


    Many estuaries contain sandy beaches that provide habitats and offer protective buffers for wetlands and infrastructure, alongside cultural and recreational resources. Research underpinning coastal management tends to focus on tide- and swell-dominated sandy beaches, but little attention is given to beaches in estuaries and bays (BEBs) that exist along a continuum of wind/swell wave, tide and riverine influence. BEBs are subject to less wave energy than open coast locations because of the generally narrow window of directions for which ocean waves can propagate through the entrance. However, when storm wave direction coincides with the orientation of the estuary or bay entrance, waves can penetrate several kilometres inside. Here we focus on eight BEBs in two major bays/estuaries in Sydney, Australia and present observations from before and after a major extratropical storm with waves from an atypical direction in June 2016. We quantify magnitudes of beach erosion and recovery rates for 3 years post-storm. We show that when high-energy storm waves penetrate bays and estuaries, BEBs can undergo up to 100% of subaerial beach erosion. Three years after the storm, only 5 of the 29 (17%) eroded subaerial beach profiles had recovered to their pre-storm volume. This is likely due to the lack of low-frequency, beach-building waves at BEBs under modal weather conditions in between storms, in contrast to open coast beaches. We also show that the recovery of BEBs may be limited by the absence of adjacent sediment reservoirs due to the dominance of tidal processes mid-channel. Our study highlights the unique behaviour of BEBs relative to beaches on the open coast, and that shifting wave direction needs to be considered in long-term beach resilience under climate change.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)3854-3868
    Number of pages15
    JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
    Issue number15
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


    • estuarine beach
    • sheltered beach
    • low‐energy beach
    • east coast low
    • coastal erosion
    • beach recovery


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