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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

Long, A.J., Waller, M.P. & Plater, A.J. Coastal resilience and late Holocene tidal inlet history: The evolution of Dungeness Foreland and the Romney Marsh depositional complex (U.K.). Geomorphology. 2006;82:309-330.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

Dungeness Foreland is a large sand and gravel barrier located in the eastern English Channel that during the last 5000 years has demonstrated remarkable geomorphological resilience in accommodating changes in relative sea-level, storm magnitude and frequency, variations in sediment supply as well as significant changes in back-barrier sedimentation. In this paper we develop a new palaeogeographic model for this depositional complex using a large dataset of recently acquired litho-, bio- and chrono-stratigraphic data. Our analysis shows how, over the last 2000 years, three large tidal inlets have influenced the pattern of back-barrier inundation and sedimentation, and controlled the stability and evolution of the barrier by determining the location of cross-shore sediment and water exchange, thereby moderating sediment supply and its distribution. The sheer size of the foreland has contributed in part to its resilience, with an abundant supply of sediment always available for ready redistribution. A second reason for the landform's resilience is the repeated ability of the tidal inlets to narrow and then close, effectively healing successive breaches by back-barrier sedimentation and ebb- and/or flood-tidal delta development. Humans emerge as key agents of change, especially through the process of reclamation which from the Saxon period onwards has modified the back-barrier tidal prism and promoted repeated episodes of fine-grained sedimentation and channel/inlet infill and closure. Our palaeogeographic reconstructions show that large barriers such as Dungeness Foreland can survive repeated “catastrophic” breaches, especially where tidal inlets are able to assist the recovery process by raising the elevation of the back-barrier area by intertidal sedimentation. This research leads us to reflect on the concept of “coastal resilience” which, we conclude, means little without a clearly defined spatial and temporal framework. At a macro-scale, the structure as a whole entered a phase of recycling and rapid progradation in response to changing sediment budget and coastal dynamics about 2000 years ago. However, at smaller spatial and temporal scales, barrier inlet dynamics have been associated with the initiation, stabilisation and breakdown of individual beaches and complexes of beaches. We therefore envisage multiple scales of “resilience” operating simultaneously across the complex, responding to different forcing agents with particular magnitudes and frequencies.

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Department of Geography