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Forcing of large-scale cycles of coastal change at the entrance to Willapa Bay, Washington

January 1, 2007

Anomalous morphological features within large estuaries may be: (1) recorders of external forces that periodically overwhelm the normal morphodynamic responses to estuarine energy fluxes, and (2) possible predictors of cycles of future coastal change. At the entrance to Willapa Bay, Washington, chronic beach erosion and frequent coastal flooding are related to the historical northward channel migration that destroyed the protective sand spits of Cape Shoalwater. Northward channel migration since the late 1800s conforms to the long-term net sediment transport direction. What requires explanation is periodic southward relocation of the trunk channel by as much as 5 km, and attendant construction of moderately large sand spits on the north side of the bay such as Kindred Island, Tokeland Peninsula, and Cape Shoalwater.

Both autocyclic and allocyclic processes may have been responsible for trunk channel realignment and associated spit deposition. Channel recycling may occur when the main channel becomes overextended to the north and the tidal flow is inefficient because of its decreased gradient and increased susceptibility to shoaling by the growth and migration of tidal sand ridges. Under those conditions trunk channel relocation would be facilitated by increased wave heights and water levels of El Niño winter storms. However, co-seismic subsidence is the most likely mechanism for abruptly increasing sand supply and longshore transport that would favor discrete periods of channel relocation and spit deposition. Unless external forcing changes sand supply and predominant sediment transport directions in the future, the relative rise in sea level, frequent winter storms, and local deficit in the sand budget assure that beach erosion will continue at the mouth of this large estuary.

Publication Year 2007
Title Forcing of large-scale cycles of coastal change at the entrance to Willapa Bay, Washington
DOI 10.1016/j.margeo.2007.07.008
Authors Robert A. Morton, H. Edward Clifton, Noreen A. Buster, Russell L. Peterson, Guy Gelfenbaum
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Marine Geology
Index ID 70031632
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coastal and Marine Geology Program