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Historical evolution of the Columbia River littoral cell

August 1, 2010

This paper details the historical coastal evolution of the Columbia River littoral cell in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Geological data from A.D. 1700 and records leading up to the late 1800s provide insights to the natural system dynamics prior to significant human intervention, most notably jetty construction between 1885 and 1917. All reliable surveys, charts, and aerial photos are used to quantify decadal-scale changes at the three estuary entrances and four sub-cells of the littoral cell. Shoreline, bathymetric, and topographic change over three historical intervals—1870s–1920s, 1920s–1950s, and 1950s–1990s—are integrated to provide an understanding of sediment-sharing relationships among the littoral cell components. Regional morphological change data are developed for alongshore segments of approximately 5 km, enabling comparisons of shoreline change to upper-shoreface and barrier volume change within common compartments. The construction of entrance jetties at the Columbia River (1885–1917) and Grays Harbor (1898–1916) has profoundly affected the evolution of the littoral cell, and has accentuated the morphological coupling between the inlets, ebb-tidal deltas, shorefaces, and barriers. The jetties induced erosion of the inlets and offshore migration of ebb-tidal deltas. The change in boundary conditions at the entrances enabled waves to rework the flanks of ebb-tidal deltas and supply enormous quantities of sand to the adjacent coasts. Over several decades the initial sand pulses have been dispersed alongshore up to tens of kilometers from the estuary entrances. Winter waves and coastal currents produce net northward sediment transport across the shoreface while summer conditions tend to induce onshore sediment transport and accumulation of the upper shoreface and barriers at relatively high rates. Historical shoreline progradation rates since jetty construction are approximately double the late prehistoric rates between 1700 and the 1870s. Erosion rates of the mid- to lower shoreface to the south of the jettied estuary entrances have typically been greater than the accumulation rates of the upper shoreface and barrier, suggesting that the lower shoreface has been an important source of littoral sediments over decadal and longer time scales. Until recent decades, sediment supply from the ebb-tidal delta flanks and lower shoreface has largely masked the decline in Columbia River sediment supply resulting from flow regulation and dredging disposal practices. With the contemporary onset and expansion of coastal erosion adjacent to the jettied estuary entrances, proper management of dredged sediment is imperative to mitigate the effects of a declining sediment budget.

Publication Year 2010
Title Historical evolution of the Columbia River littoral cell
DOI 10.1016/j.margeo.2010.02.006
Authors George M Kaminsky, Ruggiero, Maarten C. Buijsman, Diana McCandless, Guy R. Gelfenbaum
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Marine Geology
Index ID 70236417
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse