Forecasting storm inundation of coral reef aligned coasts in data rich and data poor settings

Harris D1, Leon J2

1The University Of Queensland,

2The University of the Sunshine Coast


Coral reefs provide critical protection to coastlines by regulating wave energy and reducing the inundation and erosion impacts of storms and cyclones in tropical regions. However, the widespread degradation of coral reef ecosystems, and the projected rise in sea level, has led to concerns regarding the capacity of coral reefs to maintain the coastal protection services they presently provide. The likely return interval of damaging inundation events in a future of higher sea levels and changing coral reef ecosystems is critical for the effective management and planning of tropical coastal regions. However, most coral reef and tropical coastal settings are data poor with few studies investigating inundation when compared to temperate environments.  Here, we examine the coastal protection provided by a coral reef by calibrating wave dissipation models off a high-precision data set of surf zone bathymetry, bed roughness and wave conditions. Wave transformation was then simulated under different scenarios of coral reef degradation and sea level rise. The likely return interval of inundation events in the future was determined by extracting the conditions where the beach berm was over-topped. We find that inundation events are more likely in the future due to higher sea levels, however, frequent inundation occurs much earlier in the 21st century if the structural complexity of coral reefs degrade. However, we also find that not all wave transformation models yield the same results and we provide suggestions on potential approaches in predicting inundation events depending on data availability in coral reef aligned coasts.


I am a coastal geomorphologist who focuses on the morphodynamics of coastal and coral reef systems, or more specifically, the nature of change in coastal geomorphology and the processes responsible for driving such change. This research is conducted on multiple temporal and spatial scales from short-term surf zone processes to the reconstruction of paleo sea levels and coral reef evolution. The goal of my research is to produce holistic models of coastal and coral reef response to changing environmental conditions in order to better inform management and planning of our coasts.

Prior to my current position at The University of Queensland I completed my PhD at the University of Sydney in Coral Reef Morphodynamics and was an Associate Lecturer in Marine Geoscience. I also spent over two years in Germany working at the Sea Level and Coastal Changes group at the Center for Tropical Marine Ecology (ZMT) and Center for Marine Environmental Science (MARUM) at The University of Bremen. Perhaps equally importantly I grew up on the beaches of the east coast of Australia, I am a surfer and diver, and I have a personal and professional passion for beaches, reefs, surf, and the ocean.