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World - Understanding The Resilience Of Barrier Islands And Coastal Dunes After Storms

The work of Texas A&M researchers is helping engineers better assess the vulnerability of coastal landscapes.

When a coastline undergoes massive erosion, like a hurricane flattening a beach and its nearby environments, it has to rebuild itself – relying on the resilience of its natural coastal structures to begin piecing itself back together in a way that will allow it to survive the next large phenomena that comes its way.

Orencio Duran Vinent, assistant professor, and Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe, Distinguished University Professor and Wofford Cain Chair I Professor, in the Department of Ocean Engineering at Texas A&M University, are investigating the resilience of barrier islands and coastal dunes after high-water events and storms. In doing so, they are helping engineers and researchers assess the vulnerability of coastal landscapes.

Their full findings have been published as related articles in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“If you understand how dunes grow, then you can take action, for example, in terms of vegetation or artificial barriers, to protect the coastline,” Rodriguez-Iturbe said. “But you cannot protect or manage, in this case, dunes and barrier islands if you don’t first understand the dynamics taking place.”

In general, there are two types of high-water events along the coast: natural disasters like hurricanes and tsunamis, which cause waves that devastate the shoreline, and lesser storm surges, which do not cause widescale damage but still affect the coastal environment. As Duran Vinent explains, it is these smaller, routine events that control the post-storm resiliency of dunes and barrier islands that play a key role in protecting coastal communities by absorbing some of the impact from surges.

“Those events are not really strong enough to erode a mature dune completely, but they are strong enough to prevent one from growing in the first place after a storm that erodes the dunes and the vegetation ecosystem,” he said.

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