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Critical storm thresholds for significant morphological changes and damage along the Emilia-Romagna coastline, Italy

By Armaroli C., Ciavola P., Perini L., Calabrese L., Lorito S., Valentini A. and Masina M.


The definition of storm morphological thresholds along the coast of the Emilia-Romagna Region strictly depends on its configuration and variability. The region is located in northern Italy, facing the Adriatic Sea. The coastline is characterised by very different levels of economic development, ranging from natural zones with dunes to highly developed stretches protected by breakwaters and groynes. The Integrated Coastal Zone Management effort is mainly concentrated on preserving urban areas that generate significant income for the regional economy. Natural areas, while small in comparison to the urbanised zone, are important for environment preservation. Because of such a multiplicity of issues at stake, it was decided to produce two different thresholds: one for the morphological impact on natural sectors and another for inundation and damage to structures along urbanised zones. The “forcing” component of the threshold definition for natural areas was calculated by summing the effects of surge + tide + waves (run-up elevation) to find the Maximum Water Level (MWL) reached by the sea during one, ten and one-hundred year storm return periods. For urbanised zones, historical storm information was collected starting from the 1960s in order to identify the forcing conditions causing real damages. Each storm was classified in terms of wave height, period, direction and surge level. Morphological information were obtained from Lidar flights performed in 2003 and 2004 and from direct surveys undertaken in September 2008 and February 2009 as part of the monitoring programme for the MICORE Project. The computed MWL for each return period was then compared to beach elevations along natural areas in order to calculate the Dune Stability Factor (DSF), an index that accounts for the eroded sediment volume above the MWL during a storm. Based on analysis along 41 profile lines at a 500 m spacing, it was found that the 1-in-1 year return period wave height + 1-in-1 year return period surge are able to erode and/or overwash 2/3 of the dunes. The historical storm hydrodynamic information was used to estimate which wave and surge conditions are able to inundate at least 2/3 of the beach profiles. The MWL was again compared to beach elevations, this time along 63 anthropogenic profiles spaced 500 m apart (or 1/3 of the urbanised coastline). It was found that a wave heights >= 2 m and surge + tide levels >= 0.7 m are able to flood between 18% and 36% of the built-up coast. The defined thresholds are related to the present coastal characteristics and are not “static”, meaning that they are likely to change according to future evolution of the coastline. They are very important because they can be used as thresholds to issue warnings and alert the Civil Protection. Moreover they are the first thresholds defined for the Emilia-Romagna coastline and will be used as starting values to generate “dynamic” thresholds based on numerical model predictions of morphological change for a given wave and surge level

Topics: Dune, Coastal structures, Flooding, Vulnerability, Warning system
Year: 2012
DOI identifier: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2011.09.006
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