Feedback structure of cliff and shore platform morphodynamics


It has been suggested that studies of geomorphological systems should identify potential system feedbacks, determine their direction of influence, and assess their relative importance. In this paper we show how a core set of processes and feedback loops can be distilled from existing literature on rock coast morphodynamics. The structure has been represented using Causal Loop Diagrams and a methodology to estimate the strength of a single feedback loop is presented. The backwearing erosion rate (cliff horizontal erosion) has been found to be controlled by at least four feedback loops; three balancing (cliff toe wave energy depletion, ground-water pore pressure diminution and cliff deposit protection) and one positive loop (abrasion enhancement). The downwearing erosion rate (vertical erosion) has been found to be controlled by at least three balancing feedback loops (weathering limited, shear depletion, cover-protection). Mean sea level directly influences the downwearing rate, through the water depth relative to the wave base, and indirectly influences the backwearing erosion rate through the wave energy dissipation that determines the amount of energy reaching the cliff toe. The offshore wave non-linearity parameter is proposed to capture the complex interaction between waves and shore platform geometries. The strength of the cliff toe energy depletion loop is assessed by reasoning on its causal pathway and found to be O(−10−10 to −10−4) for poorly lithified rock coasts. By understanding how the individual and overall feedback strengths are influenced by different future environmental and human intervention scenarios we could provide better assessment at the time scales needed for coastal management.

Journal of Coastal Conservation
Jim Hall
Jim Hall
Professor of Climate and Environmental Risk

Prof. Jim Hall FREng is Professor of Climate and Environmental Risks in the University of Oxford and Director of Research in the School of Geography and the Environment.