Record flooding on the Santa Clara River of California (USA) during January 2005 injected ∼ 5 million m3 of littoral-grade sediment into the Santa Barbara Littoral Cell, approximately an order of magnitude more than both the average annual river loads and the average annual alongshore littoral transport in this portion of the cell. This event appears to be the largest sediment transport event on record for a Southern California river. Over 170 m of local shoreline (mean high water (MHW)) progradation was observed as a result of the flood, followed by 3 years of rapid local shoreline recession. During this post-flood stage, linear regression-determined shoreline change rates are up to −45 m a− 1 on the subaerial beach (MHW) and − 114 m a− 1 on the submarine delta (6 m isobath). Starting approximately 1 km downdrift of the river mouth, shoreline progradation persisted throughout the 3-year post-flood monitoring period, with rates up to + 19 m a− 1. Post-flood bathymetric surveys show nearshore (0 to 12 m depth) erosion on the delta exceeding 400 m3/m a− 1, more than an order of magnitude higher than mean seasonal cross-shore sediment transport rates in the region. Changes were not constant with depth, however; sediment accumulation and subsequent erosion on the delta were greatest at − 5 to − 8 m, and accretion in downdrift areas was greatest above –2 m. Thus, this research shows that the topographic bulge (or “wave”) of sediment exhibited both advective and diffusive changes with time, although there were significant variations in the rates of change with depth. The advection and diffusion of the shoreline position was adequately reproduced with a simple “one line” model, although these modeling techniques miss the important cross-shore variations observed in this area. This study illustrates the importance of understanding low-frequency, high volume coastal discharge events for understanding short- and long-term sediment supply, littoral transport, and beach and nearshore evolution in coastal systems adjacent to river mouths.
Additional publication details
Dramatic beach and nearshore morphological changes due to extreme flooding at a wave-dominated river mouth