Beach and Vegetation-Line Changes at Galveston Island, Texas: Erosion, Deposition, and Recovery from Hurricane Alicia

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Morton, Robert A.
Paine, Jeffrey G.

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On August 18, 1983, Hurricane Alicia crossed the Upper Texas Gulf Coast and caused extensive property damage, especially along West Beach of Galveston Island. Aerial photographs taken before and after Alicia, along with field measurements made during the first post-storm year, provide a basis for determining nearshore changes associated with a major storm and for predicting potential beach recovery. Alicia caused substantial landward retreat of both the shoreline and the vegetation line. Retreat of the vegetation line ranged from 20 to 145 ft and averaged 80 ft. Erosion was generally greatest near the Sea Isle and Bay Harbor subdivisions, where storm processes were most intense; beach erosion generally decreased away from San Luis Pass, which is near the site of storm landfall. Because erosion was so severe, surface elevations were lowered as much as 4.5 ft and many Gulf-front houses were undermined and exposed on the beach after the storm.

Alicia eroded several million cubic yards of sand from West Beach. About one-tenth of that sand was deposited on the adjacent barrier flat as a washover terrace. Washover penetration was greatest to the east of the storm's eye and along developed shoreline segments. The remaining eroded beach sand was deposited offshore as shoreface bars or as storm deposits on the inner shelf. The shoreface deposits promoted rapid forebeach accretion during the first post-storm year; at the same time, the backbeach elevation remained about 3 ft lower than before the storm, and the natural post-Alicia vegetation line remained essentially unchanged. Recovery of the vegetation line 1 year after the storm was insignificant mainly because the depth of beach erosion exceeded the depth of root penetration, thus eliminating plants from some areas that were densely vegetated before the storm.


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