Over time scales of hundreds to thousands of years, the net longshore sand transport direction along the central California coast has been driven to the south by North Pacific winter swell. In contrast, during the El Nin??o winter of 1997-1998, comparisons of before and after airborne lidar surveys showed sand was transported from south to north and accumulated on the south sides of resistant headlands bordering pocket beaches. This resulted in significant beach erosion at the south ends of pocket beaches and deposition in the north ends. Coincident with the south-to-north redistribution of sand, shoreline morphology became prominently cuspate with longshore wavelengths of 400-700 m. The width and elevation of beaches were least where maximum shoreline erosion occurred, preferentially exposing cliffs to wave attack. The resulting erosional hotspots typically were located in the embayments of giant cusps in the southern end of the pocket beaches. The observed magnitude of sea cliff retreat, which reached 14 m, varied with the number of hours that extreme wave runup exceeded certain thresholds representing the protective capacity of the beach during the El Nin??o winter. A threshold representing the width of the beach performed better than a threshold representing the elevation of the beach. The magnitude of cliff erosion can be scaled using a simple model based on the cross-shore distance that extreme wave runup exceeded the pre-winter cliff position. Cliff erosion appears to be a balance between terrestrial mass wasting processes, which tend to decrease the cliff slope, and wave attack, which removes debris and erodes the cliff base increasing the cliff slope. ?? 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
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Sea-cliff erosion as a function of beach changes and extreme wave runup during the 1997-1998 El Nino