Erosive water levels and beach-dune morphodynamics, Wickaninnish Bay, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, British Columbia, Canada




Heathfield, Derek Kenneth

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Increases in the frequency and magnitude of extreme water levels and storm surges are observed along some areas of the British Columbia coast to be correlated with known climatic variability (CV) phenomena, including the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). Since a shift to a positive PDO regime in 1977, the effect of ENSO events have been more frequent, persistent, and intense. Teleconnected impacts include more frequent storms, higher surges, and greater coastal erosion. Geomorphic recovery of regional beach-dune systems from erosive events is usually rapid (i.e., within a year) by way of high onshore sand transport and aeolian delivery to the upper beach and dunes. At Wickaninnish Bay on the west coast of Vancouver Island, fast progradation rates (to +1.46 m a-1) have been observed in recent decades, in part due to rapid regional tectonic uplift and a resulting fall in relative sea level of ~ -0.9 mm a-1. The Wickaninnish foredune complex has rapidly extended alongshore in response to a net northward littoral drift and onshore sediment delivery. Bar deposition and welding processes supply sediment to the foredune complex via aeolian processes, and as a result, this is forcing Sandhill Creek northward toward the prograding (+0.71 m a-1) Combers Beach system, in part maintaining active erosion (-1.24 m a-1) of a bluff system landward of the channel. Bluff erosion generates substantial sediment volumes (-0.137 m3 m-2 a-1) that feed a large intertidal braided channel and delta system as the creek purges into the Pacific Ocean. As a first step in exploring the interactions between ocean-atmosphere forcing and beach-dune responses on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, the proposed thesis: 1) Examines and assembles the historic erosive water level regime and attempts to draw links to observed high magnitude storm events that have occurred in the Tofino-Ucluelet region (Wickaninnish Bay); and 2) Explores the geomorphic response of local shorelines by examining the geomorphology and historical evolution of a foredune-riverine-backshore bluff complex. Despite rapid shoreline progradation, foredune erosion occurs locally with a recurrence interval of ~1.53 yrs. followed by rapid rebuilding, often in the presence of large woody debris and rapidly colonizing vegetation, which drives a longer-term trend of shoreline progradation. This process is complicated locally, however, by the influence of local geological control (bedrock headlands) and backshore rivers, such as Sandhill Creek, which alter spatial-temporal patterns of both intertidal and supratidal erosion and deposition. This work is necessary to understand mechanisms responsible for erosive water levels and the process interaction responsible for subsequent coastal rebuilding following erosive periods.



coastal geomorphology, coastal erosion, climate variability, environmental forcing, climatic variability, El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), beach, foredune