Sediment dynamics at different timescales on an embayed coast in southeastern Australia

Publication Name

Journal of Coastal Conservation


The concept of coastal sediment compartments has recently been adopted at a national scale in Australia to better understand sediment and shoreline dynamics and to underpin management of future shoreline behaviour in response to impacts of climate change. Geomorphological studies in southern NSW have provided a foundation for development of conceptual models of estuary and sandy barrier evolution. Geochronological reconstructions using radiocarbon, optically-stimulated luminescence, and other dating techniques, reviewed in this paper, demonstrate that adjacent compartments are at successive stages. Three compartments, Illawarra, Shoalhaven and Moruya, are compared, each with different catchment characteristics and different levels of human intervention. Landform change and sediment accumulation at millennial timescales enable estimates of past sediment accretion (vertical accumulation) and horizontal displacement of shorelines (particularly progradation), as a first step towards quantifying volumetric changes of morphology. Lake Illawarra is a barrier estuary at an early stage of infill, but land-use change, urbanisation, and engineering structures at the entrance have accelerated rates of sediment accumulation. The Shoalhaven River has infilled its estuary and delivers sand to the coast. It has been subject to several conspicuous anthropogenic interventions. At Moruya, ongoing supply of sand, primarily from offshore rather than from the catchment, has resulted in beach-ridge plains (strandplains) with changes in their alongshore inter-connectivity driven by differential embayment infilling. Millennial-scale geomorphology indicates landform change providing a means to determine natural trajectories of sediment transfer. However, variability is apparent at century and decadal timescales, compounded by various anthropogenic interventions. Disentangling natural and anthropogenic influences will be necessary to provide greater confidence in estimating past and present sediment budgets. Assessing sand sources and transport rates is important in relation to engineering interventions at entrances, and long-term resilience of coastal habitats. Such issues are the focus of coastal management programs, and this synthesis emphasises the relevance of a sediment budget approach to understand contemporary sediment pathways and provide an indication of future response to engineering interventions and sensitivity to climate change.

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Funding Sponsor

National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility



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