Coupling of Backbarrier Shorelines to Geomorphological Processes



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Recent evidence suggests that backbarrier structure may act as an historical record of island development, and that backbarrier shorelines can be used as a proxy of an island?s past and future transgressive response to sea-level rise. The structure and stability of back-barrier shorelines are dependent on the geologic framework, defined here as the combination of nearshore topography, underlying geology, and modern geomorphologic forces. This antecedent framework controls and influences the present morphology, nearshore dynamics, and rates of transgression in response to sea-level rise while also acting as a feedback to the estuary ecology on the bayside. It is therefore surprising that our understanding of backbarrier geomorphology is limited. There is a need for an established link between process regimes and an island?s geomorphological history. This thesis bridges the current intellectual gap.

The primary hypothesis of this project is that shorelines and bathymetric isolines share quantitative shape signatures indicative of their shared morphological past. To establish this link, the backbarrier shorelines of four United States National Seashores (Fire Island, NY; Assateague Island, MD; Santa Rosa Island, FL; and North Padre Island, TX) are digitized from aerial imagery using the marshline as the shoreline indicator to ensure the inclusion of (vital, sometimes inundated) ecosystems and sediment storage. The alongshore variation of this backbarrier shoreline, the mainland shoreline, lagoon bathymetry, and nearshore bathymetry are each quantified through wavelet analysis and their shape signatures are examined for spatial correspondence. Large and small scale variations are identified and attributed to the geomorphologic controls operating on the same scale and alongshore variation. The result is an improved understanding of how the geologic framework controls backbarrier shoreline shape, which is essentially an expression of the underlying geology.