An aerial view of Santa Rosa Island, Florida, a barrier island known for its beautiful beaches. Credit: Chris Houser

Barrier island sand dunes recover at different rates after hurricanes

Sand dunes on coastal barrier islands buffer the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts from oncoming hurricanes. Every year, millions of public and private dollars fund the restoration of these barrier islands, but managers often focus on the recovery of smaller sand dunes and aim at making them bigger, for better storm protection.

Chris Houser, a coastal geologist at the University of Windsor, Canada who presented the findings, experienced Hurricane Ivan the day after he'd arrived in Pensacola, Florida in 2004. Houser witnessed the damage caused to barrier islands along Pensacola and loss of dune fronts, which motivated him to study the sand dune recovery process in the aftermath of storms.

"We wanted to know how quickly narrow sections of the island recover compared to wider sections with bigger dunes," he said.

But new research presented at the 2018 AGU Fall Meeting last month finds sand dunes on these barrier islands don't all recover at the same rate. Small dunes go back to becoming small dunes; large dunes recover to be large dunes; and they don't typically grow larger than they were before the storm struck.

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