Undeveloped and developed phases in the centennial evolution of a barrier-marsh-lagoon system: The case of Long Beach Island, New Jersey

Christopher Tenebruso, Shane Nichols-O’Neill, Jorge Lorenzo-Trueba, Daniel J. Ciarletta, Jennifer L. Miselis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Barrier islands and their associated backbarrier environments protect mainland population centers and infrastructure from storm impacts, support biodiversity, and provide long-term carbon storage, among other ecosystem services. Despite their socio-economic and ecological importance, the response of coupled barrier-marsh-lagoon environments to sea-level rise is poorly understood. Undeveloped barrier-marsh-lagoon systems typically respond to sea-level rise through the process of landward migration, driven by storm overwash and landward mainland marsh expansion. Such response, however, can be affected by human development and engineering activities such as lagoon dredging and shoreline stabilization. To better understand the difference in the response between developed and undeveloped barrier-marsh-lagoon environments to sea-level rise, we perform a local morphologic analysis that describes the evolution of Long Beach Island (LBI), New Jersey, over the last 182 years. We find that between 1840 and 1934 the LBI system experienced landward migration of all five boundaries, including 171 meters of shoreline retreat. Between the 1920s and 1950s, however, there was a significant shift in system behavior that coincided with the onset of groin construction, which was enhanced by beach nourishment and lagoon dredging practices. From 1934 to 2022 the LBI system experienced ~22 meters of shoreline progradation and a rapid decline in marsh platform extent. Additionally, we extend a morphodynamic model to describe the evolution of the system in terms of five geomorphic boundaries: the ocean shoreline and backbarrier-marsh interface, the seaward and landward lagoon-marsh boundaries, and the landward limit of the inland marsh. We couple this numerical modeling effort with the map analysis during the undeveloped phase of LBI evolution, between 1840 and 1934. Despite its simplicity, the modeling framework can describe the average cross-shore evolution of the barrier-marsh-lagoon system during this period without accounting for human landscape modifications, supporting the premise that natural processes were the key drivers of morphological change. Overall, these results suggest that anthropogenic effects have played a major role in the evolution of LBI over the past century by altering overwash fluxes and marsh-lagoon geometry; this is likely the case for other barrier-marsh-lagoon environments around the world.

Original languageEnglish
Article number958573
JournalFrontiers in Marine Science
StatePublished - 21 Oct 2022


  • barrier island
  • beach nourishment
  • coastal development
  • hold the line
  • lagoon
  • marsh
  • overwash processes


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