Three years of morphologic changes at a bowl blowout, Cape Cod, USA

Alex Smith, Paul A. Gares, Thad Wasklewicz, Patrick A. Hesp, Ian Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


This study presents measurements of blowout topography obtained with annual terrestrial laser surveys carried out over a three-year period at a single, large bowl blowout located in the Provincelands Dunes section of Cape Cod National Seashore, in Massachusetts. The study blowout was selected because its axis is aligned with northwest winds that dominate the region, and because it was seemingly interacting with a smaller saucer blowout that had recently formed on the southern rim of the primary feature. Assuming that blowouts enlarge both horizontally and vertically in response to the wind regime, the objectives of the study were to determine both the amount of horizontal growth that the blowout experiences annually and the spatial patterns of vertical change that occur within the blowout. Changes to the blowout lobe surrounding the feature were also determined for areas with sparse enough vegetation cover to allow laser returns from the sand surface. The results show that the blowout consistently expanded outward during the three years, with the greatest expansion occurring at its southeast corner, opposite the prevailing winds. The most significant occurrence was the removal, in the first year, of the ridge that separated the two blowouts, resulting in a major horizontal shift of the southern rim of the new combined blowout. This displacement then continued at a lesser rate in subsequent years. The rim also shifted horizontally along the northwest to northeast sections of the blowout. Significant vertical loss occurred along the main axis of the blowout with the greatest loss concentrated along the southeast rim. On the lobe, there were large areas of deposition immediately downwind of the high erosion zones inside the blowout. However, there were also small erosion areas on the lobe, extending downwind from eroding sections of the rim. This study shows that: 1. blowouts can experience significant areal and volumetric changes in short periods of time; 2. significant changes may occur relatively suddenly when adjacent blowouts combine into a single feature; and 3. the sediment transport paths are highly controlled by the topography. The joining of two blowouts not only creates a new larger feature, but it also releases large amounts of sediment that are then distributed across the landscape downwind, creating a potential for major changes to a landscape over the longer term.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)452-466
Number of pages15
StatePublished - Oct 15 2017


  • Airflow
  • Blowout
  • Lobe deposition
  • Rim expansion
  • Terrestrial laser scanning
  • Wind events

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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