Observations and Modeling of Wave-Acceleration-Induced Sediment Transport in the Surfzone

Fernanda Hoefel, Ph.D., 2004
Steve Elgar, Advisor

Onshore sediment transport and sandbar migration are important to the morphological evolution of beaches, but are not understood well. Here, a new model that accounts for accelerations of wave-orbital velocities predicts onshore sandbar migration observed on an ocean beach. In both the observations and the model, the location of the maximum acceleration-induced transport moves shoreward with the sandbar, resulting in feedback between waves and morphology that drives the bar shoreward until conditions change. A model that combines the effects of transport by waves and mean currents simulates both onshore and offshore bar migration observed over a 45-day period. A stochastic nonlinear Boussinesq model for the evolution of waves in shallow water is coupled with the wave-acceleration-driven sediment transport model to predict observed onshore sediment transport and sandbar migration given observations of the offshore wave field and initial bathymetry. The Boussinesq-wave model has skill in predicting wave spectra, as well as velocity and accceleration statistics across the surfzone, but it underpredicts acceleration skewness on top of the sandbar. As a result, the coupled wave-sediment transport model underpredicts sediment transport, and thus fails to move the sandbar onshore. Although the coupled wave and sediment model can be tuned to yield skillful predictions of onshore sandbar migration, in general, closer agreement between observed and modeled statistics of the wave field is essential for the successful application of wave models to predict sediment transport.