Assessing significant geomorphic changes and effectiveness of dynamic restoration in a coastal dune ecosystem

Ian J. Walker, Jordan B.R. Eamer, Ian B. Darke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


A shift from restoring coastal dunes as stabilized landscapes toward more morphodynamic ecosystems is underway. This paper uses results from a recent case study where invasive vegetation was removed from a coastal dune complex in western Canada as a first step in a dynamic ecosystem restoration project. Spatial statistical methods, used in the natural sciences to quantify patterns of significant spatial-temporal changes, are reviewed and the local Moran's Ii spatial autocorrelation statistic is explored for detecting and assessing significant changes. Cluster maps of positive (depositional) and negative (erosional) changes were used to derive statistically significant volumetric changes within discrete geomorphic units (beach, foredune, transgressive dune) over one year following vegetation removal. All units experienced net increases in sediment budgets compared to a pre-restoration surface. The beach experienced the highest episodic erosion and volumetric change and greatest net annual sediment budget. Compared to the beach, the annual sediment budget of the foredune was 19% whereas the transgressive dune was 33%. The foredune recovered rapidly to initial erosion during restoration and subsequent natural events with consistently positive sediment volumes and attained a form similar to that pre-restoration. Aeolian deflation and sand bypassing through the foredune was greatest in the two months following vegetation removal and peak accretion in the transgressive dune resulted from depositional lobes extending from the foredune, smaller dunes migrating within the complex, and growth of a precipitation ridge along the eastern margin.Several methodological and logistical considerations for detecting significant change in dynamic dune landscapes are discussed including sampling strategy design, data normalization and control measures, and incorporating uncertainty and inherent spatial relations within acquired datasets to ensure accuracy and comparability of results. Generally underutilized in coastal geomorphology, spatial autocorrelation methods (e.g., local Moran's Ii) are recommended over spatially uniform threshold approaches for the ability to detect local change processes and explore hypotheses on spatial-temporal dynamics.Finally, several key geomorphic indicators, that are believed to aid in re-establishing ecological conditions and processes that favor more resilient and natural dune ecosystems, are identified for assessing the effectiveness of dynamic restoration projects including: increased aeolian activity, enlarged active sand surface area, positive sediment budgets, increased dune morphodynamics, improved geomorphic diversity, and enhanced geomorphic resilience. Although limited in temporal scope, the case study results show that the initial phase of the restoration treatment was effective in enhancing all indicators except for increasing sand surface area. Given decadal scale observations of climatic changes and longer-term eco-geomorphic trajectory toward stabilization in the region, however, it is unlikely that the geomorphic effectiveness of this restoration effort will continue without continued frequent treatment interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)192-204
Number of pages13
StatePublished - Oct 1 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Aeolian
  • Ammophila
  • Dynamic restoration
  • Foredune
  • Moran's I
  • Spatial statistics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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