Interaction of Sea-Level Pulses With Periodically Retreating Barrier Islands

Daniel J. Ciarletta, Jorge Lorenzo-Trueba, Andrew D. Ashton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Submerged barrier deposits preserved on continental shelf seabeds provide a record of paleocoastal environmental change from the last glacial maximum through the Holocene. The formation of these offshore deposits is often attributed to intermittent periods of rapidly rising sea levels, especially glacial meltwater pulses, which are expected to lead to partial or complete drowning – overstepping – of migrating barrier islands. However, recent cross-shore modeling and field evidence suggests that even for constant sea-level rise and shelf slope, the internal dynamics of migrating barriers could plausibly drive periodic retreat accompanied by autogenic partial overstepping and deposition of barrier sediment. We hypothesize that the interaction of periodic retreat with changes in external (allogenic) forcing from sea-level rise may create novel retreat responses and corresponding relict barrier deposits. Specifically, we posit that autogenic deposits can be amplified by an increased rate of relative sea-level rise, while in other cases internal dynamics can disrupt or mask the production of allogenic deposits. Here, we model barriers through a range of autogenic–allogenic interactions, exploring how barriers with different inherent autogenic periods respond to discrete, centennial-scale sea-level-rise pulses of variable magnitude and timing within the autogenic transgressive barrier cycle. Our results demonstrate a diversity of depositional signals, where production of relict sands is amplified or suppressed depending on both the barrier’s internal dynamic state and the pulse magnitude. We also show that millennial-scale autogenic periodicity renders barriers vulnerable to complete drowning for relatively low pulse rates of rise (<15 mm/year).

Original languageEnglish
Article number279
JournalFrontiers in Earth Science
StatePublished - 31 Oct 2019


  • autogenic
  • barrier island
  • Holocene
  • meltwater pulse
  • modeling
  • overstepping
  • sea level


Dive into the research topics of 'Interaction of Sea-Level Pulses With Periodically Retreating Barrier Islands'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this