A series of partially drowned drumlins forms the backbone of the inner islands within Boston Harbor. The shoreline of these rounded glacial deposits is composed of actively retreating bluffs formed by continual wave attack. Comparisons of bluffs reveal variability in their height and lateral extent, as well as in the dominant mechanism causing their retreat. Two processes are responsible for bluff erosion and yield distinct bluff morphologies: (1) wave attack undercuts the bluff and causes episodic slumping, yielding planar bluff slopes, and (2) subaerial processes such as rainfall create irregular slopes characterized by rills and gullies. We propose a model of drumlin bluff evolution that is based on processes of erosion and physical characteristics such as bluff height, slope morphology, and the orientation of the bluff with respect to the long axis of the drumlin and its topographic crest. The four phases of drumlin bluff evolution consist of (1) initial formation of bluff, with retreat dominated by wave notching and slumping processes; (2) rill and gully development as bluff heights exceed 10 m and slumped sediment at bluff base inhibits wave attack; (3) return of wave notching and slumping as bluff heights decrease; and (4) final development of boulder retreat lag as last remnants of drumlin are eroded by wave action. These phases capture the important physical processes of drumlin evolution in Boston Harbor and could apply to other eroding coastal drumlin deposits.
Additional publication details
Bluff evolution along coastal drumlins: Boston Harbor Islands, Massachusetts