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Morphological controls and statistical modelling of boulder transport by extreme storms

Oliveira, M.A.; Scotto, Manuel; Barbosa, S.M.; Freire de Andrade, C.; Freitas, M.C.

Marine Geology, 426 (2020), 106216

The study of coastal boulder accumulations generated by extreme marine events, and of the energy and frequency involved in boulder transport, is of paramount importance in understanding the risk associated with extreme marine inundations. One of the frequently asked questions is whether the deposits are storm or tsunami-related, both events being characterized by different return periods. Boulder transport by storms was monitored on the west coast of Portugal. Significant changes were detected in boulders' position as a result of extreme inundation by the 2013/2014 winter storms. Results presented in this work indicate that the wave power associated with the “Christina” and “Nadja” storms occur once every three years. However, this interval is not supported by field observations of boulder displacement, which suggests that wave power over-predicts boulder movement in the study area. Furthermore, wave parameters from the “Christina” and “Nadja” storms were very similar, but have generated different impacts in the boulder accumulation described herein. Differences include the magnitude and direction of boulder movement, and are most likely associated with distinct tidal levels during the events. Higher tide levels generated an increase in the sea surface level and thus in the reach of waves, which generated displacement of larger boulders and consequent cross-shore contribution in boulder transport. Regardless, the combination of monitoring campaigns, wave data, and statistical modelling of extreme values indicate that boulder transport by storms is more frequent than initially expected. Based on recorded boulder movements, we present a conceptual model for boulder ridge formation and development and identify significant control of incoming flow by local geomorphological/topographical features. Storm events, not less frequent tsunamis, are identified as the events responsible for modulating this rocky coastline. These results question a direct attribution of coastal boulder deposits to tsunamis in coastal regions with a high risk of tsunami inundation.