Estuaries and Coast

Assessing Habitat Change and Migration of Barrier Islands

Jun 17, 2021

Author(s): Nicholas M. Enwright (Wetland and Aquatic Research Center), Lei Wang (Department of Geography and Anthropology, Louisiana State University), Hongqing Wang (Wetland and Aquatic Research Center), Michael J. Osland (Wetland and Aquatic Research Center), & Elizabeth S. Godsey (US Army Corps of Engineers), Rangley C. Mickey, Robert L. Jenkins III

Barrier islands are dynamic environments that experience gradual change from waves, tides, and currents, and rapid change from extreme storms. These islands are expected to change drastically over the coming century due to accelerated sea-level rise and changes in frequency and intensity of storm events. The dynamic nature of barrier islands coupled with the importance of these environments make it critical for natural resource managers to understand how habitats on barrier islands are changing or may change over time to determine when and where management actions may be needed. In this study, we applied a habitat change assessment framework, which included exploring areal coverage and distribution changes and change component analysis. Change component analysis, which breaks differences into net gain/loss and allocation difference (i.e., habitat oscillation), has not previously been used to study barrier island habitat evolution. Here, we demonstrate the approach using habitat predictions from a geomorphic modeling effort on Dauphin Island, Alabama (USA). We explored differences of habitat predictions for potential island configurations with and without a beach and dune restoration action under future conditions related to sea level and storminess. We found a potential linkage between landward migration of barrier islands and exchange, an output of change component analysis. The hypothesis may be tested to explore whether this linkage applies over space and time and whether the approach is applicable to monitoring landward migration of coastal wetlands. Collectively, our results highlight the utility of change component analysis for monitoring and quantifying barrier island habitat change and migration. More here.