Response of a Fringing Reef Coastline to the Direct Impact of a Tropical Cyclone

Abstract: Tropical cyclones generate extreme hazards along coastlines, often leading to losses of life and property. Although coral reefs exist in cyclone-prone regions globally, few studies have measured the hydrodynamic conditions and morphological responses of reef-fringed coastlines to tropical cyclones. Here, we examine the impact of Tropical Cyclone Olwyn on a section of Australia’s largest fringing reef (Ningaloo Reef) using in situ wave and water level observations, topographic surveys, and numerical modeling. Despite forereef significant wave heights reaching 6 m and local winds of 140 km h-1, average beach volume change was only -3 mm-1. The results indicate that this erosion was due to locally generated wind waves within the lagoon rather than the offshore waves that were dissipated on the reef crest. A comparison of these volume changes to observations of tropical cyclone impacts along exposed sandy beaches quantitatively demonstrates the substantial coastal protection reefs can provide against extreme storms.

Authors: Cuttler, M. V., J.E. Hansen, R.J. Lowe, and E.J. Drost
Year: 2018
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Limnology and Oceanography Letters 3(2).

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