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Hydrodynamic and Morphodynamic Responses to Surfzone Seafloor Perturbations

Melissa Moulton, Ph.D., 2016
Steve Elgar, Advisor

Holes and channels were excavated in the surf zone on an ocean beach near Duck, NC, and observations of the subsequent evolution of waves, currents, and the modified seafloor were used to investigate nearshore dynamics. In one set of seafloor perturbation experiments, deep holes with steeply sloping sides were excavated in the inner surfzone seafloor. Observations of the infilling holes were used to make the first field estimates of the surfzone morphological diffusivity, which describes the rate of seafloor smoothing by downslope sediment transport. To improve the temporal resolution of bathymetric estimates, a mapping method was developed to combine infrequent, spatially dense watercraft surveys with continuous, spatially sparse in situ altimeter estimates of the seafloor location. In another set of seafloor perturbation experiments, channels were dredged across the surf zone with the propellers of a landing craft. Alongshore variations in wave breaking caused by the perturbed bathymetry resulted in strong rip currents in the channels under some conditions, whereas alongshore currents bypassed the channels under other conditions. The dynamics of the circulation response for changing wave forcing, bathymetry, and tidal elevation are investigated using the observations, a numerical model, and a parameter based on wave properties and bathymetry.