Geomorphology as an indicator of the biophysical vulnerability of estuaries to coastal and flood hazards in a changing climate
Climate change is increasing the need to characterise the vulnerability of coastal landscapes to coastal and flood hazards that result in erosion and inundation. Indices, such as the Coastal Vulnerability Index (CVI), have emerged as useful tools with which coastal managers can prioritise areas for further detailed assessment of vulnerability, risk, resilience and adaptation options. Approaches, such as the use of an index, efficiently characterise the vulnerability of linear, one-dimensional coastal features such as coastlines; however, they do not capture variability in coastal processes affecting more complex, non-linear features, such as estuaries, or interactive effects of coastal processes between linear (e.g. coastlines) and non-linear (e.g. estuaries) landforms. We present an approach that uses geomorphology to indicate biophysical vulnerability of estuaries to coastal and flood hazards. The approach is applied to the South Coast of NSW; a wave-dominated coastline of approximately 400 km length that contains more than 100 estuaries. We demonstrate the simplicity of the approach and its utility in identifying areas requiring higher resolution assessments. Although this approach does not include socio-economic factors, we demonstrate the capacity to incorporate socio-economic components of vulnerability using regional land use mapping. We infer that the most vulnerable estuaries are characterised by large catchment areas, broad estuarine valleys, mature stages of infill, or entrances oriented towards the prevailing wave direction. The area below 15 m elevation was identified as a robust indicator of the total area of vulnerability within a catchment. This approach can be applied to one-dimensional and more complex two-dimensional landscapes, such as estuaries; integrates varying sea-level rise projections; and incorporates a wider range of hazards that operate in the coastal zone.