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Development and application of an empirical dune growth model for evaluating barrier island recovery from storms

December 1, 2020

Coastal zone managers require models that predict barrier island change on decadal time scales to estimate coastal vulnerability, and plan habitat restoration and coastal protection projects. To meet these needs, methods must be available for predicting dune recovery as well as dune erosion. In the present study, an empirical dune growth model (EDGR) was developed to predict the evolution of the primary foredune of a barrier island. Within EDGR, an island is represented as a sum of Gaussian shape functions representing dunes, berms, and the underlying island form. The model evolves the foredune based on estimated terminal dune height and location inputs. EDGR was assessed against observed dune evolution along the western end of Dauphin Island, Alabama over the 10 years following Hurricane Katrina (2005). The root mean square error with EDGR (ranging from 0.18 to 0.74 m over the model domain) was reduced compared to an alternate no-change model (0.69–0.96 m). Hindcasting with EDGR also supports the study of dune evolution processes. At Dauphin Island, results suggest that a low-lying portion of the site was dominated by overwash for ~5 years after Katrina, before approaching their terminal height and becoming growth-limited after 2010. EDGR’s computational efficiency allows dune evolution to be rapidly predicted and enables ensemble predictions to constrain the uncertainty that may result if terminal dune characteristics are unknown. In addition, EDGR can be coupled with an external model for estimating dune erosion and/or the long-term evolution of other subaerial features to allow decadal-scale prediction of barrier island evolution.