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Environmental Modelling Report

Conceptual beach state model: a numerical analysis


This study aims to understand if the numerical model XBeach is capable of

reproducing the sediment transport patterns of a recently developed conceptual beach
state model. Numerical simulations were carried out in the time-domain using three
analytical cross-shore profiles. Best agreement with the sediment transport patterns of
the conceptual beach state model was found to be dependent on the offshore wave
conditions. The model coefficients to parameterize wave asymmetry and skewness took
the values of 0.9 for moderate and 0.1 for storm wave conditions.

1. Introduction

The understanding of beach morphology and the ability to categorize them in several
beach states has been the work of many coastal scientists during the last decades.
Wright and Short (1984) developed a conceptual beach state model based on several
field measurements over many beaches along the Australia coastline. This conceptual
model assumes that the morphology is in equilibrium with the hydrodynamic forcing. The
authors defined three different beach types based on the non-dimensionless sediment
fall velocity:

where, is the wave breaker height, is the sediment fall velocity and is the
wave period. Dissipative beaches display a value greater than 6 while reflective
beaches are associated with values lower than 1.5. Intermediate beach states occur
between these two extremes. This conceptual beach model has been widely for
characterize beach profiles and was extended to include both the tidal range influence
(Masselink and Short, 1993) and multi-barred beaches (Short and Aagaard, 1993).

Aagaard et al. (2013) reviewed the beach state model and added interesting
information, such as the level of bed agitation and the intensity of the sediment transport
rate (Figure 1). Most part of the morphological changes occur in intermediate beaches
because they are more far from the equilibrium beach conditions than the other two
beach types. Moreover, intermediate beach profiles commonly display a bar feature with
the bar crest located close to the wave breaking point. The authors also considered the
different levels of bed agitation and transport rates during both storm and mean wave

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conditions. During mean wave conditions, the majority of the sediment transport is
directed onshore which is in accordance to the beach accretion during calm wave energy
conditions. During storms, the sediment transport is mainly transported seawards which
is the typical situation that occurs during storms. Note that this model was built based on
many field observations of sediment transport during moderate and storm conditions.

Figure 1 Conceptual beach state model after Aagaard et al. (2013)

An important forcing that drives sediment transport in coastal areas is the oscillatory
flow induced by infragravity waves (IGW). IGW are low-frequency motions with periods
between 20 to 300 s. IGW are generated by the radiation stresses associated to the
short-wave groups (Longuet Higgins and Stewart, 1962 and Symonds et al., 1981).
Several studies reported their importance during beach (Russel, 1993) and dune erosion
(De Vries, 2008) which highlights their role in nearshore morphodynamics. Their

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prediction with numerical models is usually time-consuming because the individual short
waves must be resolved (phase-resolving models). Recently, the XBeach model
developed by Roelvink et al. (2009) partially overcome this time limitation and it was
proofed to be able to predict the long wave motions by resolving the short-wave group
modulation in time. This method will be further explored in Section 2.1.

XBeach model couples a hydrodynamic, a wave, a sediment transport and a bottom

evolution module. The hydrodynamic module uses the depth-integrated nonlinear
shallow water equations with the hydrostatic assumption and make uses of the
Generalized Lagrangian Mean (GLM) formulation thereby allowing it to solve the
undertow currents. The velocity is split in an Eulerian and a Stokes velocity components.
The Stokes component is calculated from the wave orbital velocity and is fixed over the
numerical iterations of the flow model. Undertow occurs in locations where the sum of
both velocities is directed seawards.

The wave module uses the wave action balance equation and accounts for the
processes of wave shoaling, refraction and dissipation through depth-induced breaking.
The transfer of momentum is done with the use of the radiation stresses. The sediment
transport module uses the empirical sediment transport formulations of Soulsby et al.
(1997) which calculates the suspended and the bedload transport rates. The bottom
evolution module uses the Exner equation to update the bottom at every time step.
XBeach model was able to simulate the nearshore morphodynamics during the
Hurricane Ivan on a barrier island with a good accuracy (e.g. McCall et al., 2010), thereby
being an adequate model for the purpose of this study.

This study aims to verify if the XBeach model is able to reproduce, qualitatively, the
sediment transport rates of the Aagaard et al. (2013) conceptual beach state model. For
this end, three different analytical beach profiles were constructed (Section 2). These
profiles were representative of reflective, intermediate and dissipative beaches. Two
different wave conditions were imposed at the offshore boundary to mimic mean wave
and storm conditions. A sensibility analysis was performed on the models
parameterizations of wave skewness and asymmetry. Results and discussion are
reported in Section 3. Main findings are briefly summarized in Section 4.

2. Methodology

2.1 Wave group resolving method

Two different approaches are usually used to predict the spatial distribution of the
wave energy in nearshore areas. The phase-averaged approach simulates the spatial

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patterns assuming a time period much longer than the individual wave period and it can
be applied to resolve a single monochromatic wave or a directional wave spectrum (e.g.
REF-DIF model and SWAN model). The phase-resolving approach simulates the
individual short-wave height in the time domain (e.g. SWASH model). See Roelvink and
Reniers (2012) for a review.

The wave group resolving method uses both ideas in order to simulate the long waves
in nearshore areas. The energy contained in the wave group envelope is simulated in
the time-domain. See Van Dongeren et al. (2003) for further reading in the method to
derive the wave group envelope from a directional wave spectrum. The generation of
long waves is obtained by the time-dependent forcing of the radiation stresses
associated to this modulation on the hydrodynamic module. One of the drawbacks in this
approach is its inability of taking into account the dissipation of depth-induced breaking
to be frequency-dependent because it only accounts with a monochromatic peak
frequency. This detail can be important in coastal environments with strong tidal currents
(Dodet et al., 2013).

2.2 Numerical experiments

The analytical beach profiles were constructed using three different beach slopes
after a flat bottom with an offshore water depth of 20 m. 1/80, 1/50 and 1/20 bottom
slopes were used to be representative of dissipative, intermediate and reflective beach
profiles, respectively. A single bar was added as a linear discontinuity on the intermediate
profile using a bar height of 1.5 m and a water depth over the bear crest of 3 m. This bar
was consistent with natural bars that occurred in nature close to the wave breaking point.

Offshore wave forcing was parameterized based on a JONSWAP type spectrum with
a significant wave height of 1.5 m, a peak wave period of 9 s and a factor of 3.3 for the
mean wave conditions. Storm conditions had a significant wave height of 3 m and a peak
wave period of 12 s and a of 3.3. The offshore wave forcing tried to mimic the wave
climate that might occur along the western Portuguese coastline during moderate and
more energetic wave conditions. The wave envelope calculation is a random process
due to the wave phase. The use of different forcing wave envelope time series on the
offshore boundary may lead to wave groups with different group structure between
simulations. For that reason, the wave envelope time series was calculated for the first
simulation and this signal was imposed for the other cases.

2.2 Model setup and parameterizations

The grid spatial resolution was set to 10 m which is sufficient to resolve the typical
scales of motions associated to the wave group envelope (Roelvink et al., 2009). The

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time step is adaptive (around 0.176 s) and is based on the Courant number which was
set to the default value of 0.7. Bottom friction used the Manning formulation with a
constant value of 0.020 sm-1/3. The horizontal turbulent viscosity was also constant and
equal to 1 ms-2. Wave breaking was simulated with the formulation of Roelvink et al.
(1993) using the default values. The simulation took into account the wave roller effect
which was showed to be important in nearshore hydrodynamics (Ruessink et al., 2001).

The wave asymmetry and skewness are two important processes that need to be
included. As waves approach the beach, they become skew before breaking and this
induces an onshore mass transport (Roelvink and Reniers, 2012). Here, the
parameterization of Van Thiel de Vries (2009) was used for that purpose. These
processes are also important because the model is able to account for the undertow and
without the wave skewness and asymmetry it is likely that the sediment transport is
mainly directed seawards. A sensibility analysis was performed on this two coefficients
that have values ranging from 0 to 1, with default values of 0.1. Additional simulations
with coefficients of 0.5 and 0.9 for both parameterizations were tested.

The model was run from rest during 3200 s without the bed evolution module. Model
outputs were obtained after the initial 360 s which was considered as the ramp period.
Model outputs comprised the instantaneous wave height, the sea-surface elevation, the
water depth, the cross-shore velocity and the total sediment transport rate with a
sampling frequency of 2 Hz every 100 m. The short-wave height was computed as four
times the standard deviation associated to the instantaneous wave height time series.
The infragravity wave height was calculated as four times the standard deviation of the
sea-surface elevation time series.

3. Results and discussion

3.1 Comparison with the conceptual model

During moderate wave conditions the sediment transport rates are mainly onshore
directed following the conceptual beach state model reviewed by Aagaard et al. (2013)
(Figure 1). A small exception occurs for the LBT beach state where the sediment
transport rate is offshore directed at the bar trough. The sediment transport is also
intensified near morphological features for the dissipative and LBT profile, while it is more
intensive near the shoreline both for the reflective and LTT profile.

Our results demonstrate that under moderate wave conditions, the parametric
coefficients that satisfy or are more close to this conceptual model are those of panel g
in Figure 1. The sediment transport is larger for the intermediate beach profile when

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compared to the reflective and intermediate profiles. Qualitatively, the model was able to
simulate a mean shoreward sediment transport rate besides some small mismatches
that occur, for example, at the bar trough. The agreement is best achieved when using
the values of 0.9 for both calibration coefficients.

Figure 2 Mean total sediment transport rates for storm (left) and moderate (right) wave
conditions over dissipative (red), intermediate (black) and reflective (blue) beach profiles (panels
d and h). Differences between the first, second and third row result from different coefficients in
the wave nonlinearities parameterizations (wave asymmetry and skewness). Please note the
differences in the vertical axis between storm and moderate wave conditions.

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During storm conditions the sediment transport rates of the conceptual model are a
mix between onshore and offshore directions depending on the beach profile. Dissipative
beaches display a mean transport rate offshore directed. The sediment transport rates
in intermediate beaches is directed offshore up to the bar crest. In reflective beaches,
the sediment transport is also offshore directed up to close the breaking point (limit of
the surf zone).

From the results and using the same coefficients as the moderate wave conditions
(Figure 1 panel c), the sediment transport rates are mainly offshore directed. Better
agreement with the conceptual model is found for the calibration coefficient values of 0.1
as in panel a. The offshore sediment transport rate is more intensive for the reflective
beach when compared to the dissipative which is also in agreement with the conceptual

3.2 Hydrodynamic forcing

The hydrodynamic forcing parameters are compared in Figure 3. The surf zone widths
are narrower for reflective beach state when compared to the dissipative beach state
both under storm and moderate wave conditions. This is due to the beach slope which
increase the bottom gradient near the breakpoint as reviewed by Bertin et al. (2017). The
infragravity wave generation is also higher for the more dissipative beach profile during
storm conditions. This is not the case during moderate wave conditions where it seems
that the bar might play a role in increasing the IGW energy near the shoreline when
comparing the intermediate to the dissipative beach state.

The depth-average mean current is directed offshore for all the test cases and this is
probably the current associated to the undertow. This current was larger for the
dissipative beach profile when compared to the other two. This is in contrast to the
findings of Bertin et al. (2017). A possible explanation for this is not known for the time
being and these results deserve further investigation.

3.3 Discussion on wave skewness and asymmetry

Our results suggest that the parameterization coefficients for wave asymmetry and
skewness on shallow water are dependent on the offshore wave forcing. Higher values
for these coefficients resulted in better agreement of the sediment transport rates
between the numerical model and the conceptual model under moderate wave
conditions. Lower values were better for the qualitative agreement during storm
conditions. This implies that these coefficients depend on the hydrodynamic forcing.

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Figure 3 Short wave height for storm (panel a) and moderate (panel e) wave conditions over
dissipative (red), intermediate (black) and reflective (blue) beach profiles (panels d and h).
Infragravity wave height for storm (panel b) and moderate wave conditions (panel f). Mean depth-
averaged cross-shore velocity for storm (panel c) and moderate (panel g) wave conditions. Please
note the differences in the vertical axis between storm and moderate wave conditions.

Other possible explanation might be due to the fact that the beach profile is not in
equilibrium for the storm condition. Three further simulations were performed to test this
hypothesis (Figure 4). The calibration coefficients were set to 0.9 and the morphological
evolution was allowed in the model (bottom evolution module). The results obtained were

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not sensitive to the bed evolution and the same sediment transport patterns were
obtained. These results further demonstrate that morphodynamic models still require
much calibration and the physical processes that drive the morphological changes in
nearshore environments might not be completely understood.

Figure 4 Mean total sediment transport rates for storm wave conditions over dissipative (red),
intermediate (black) and reflective (blue) beach profiles (panel a) with calibration coefficients of
0.9. Initial (line) and final (dashed line) over different beach profiles (panel b).

4. Conclusions

The numerical model XBeach was compared against the sediment transport rates
from a recently reviewed conceptual beach state model. The agreement was good but
require calibration on wave skewness and asymmetry parameters. The results suggest
that the calibration coefficients for wave asymmetry and skewness are dependent on the
offshore wave conditions. High and low calibration coefficients for wave nonlinearities
are required to achieve a better agreement to the conceptual beach sediment transport
rates during moderate and storm wave conditions, respectively.

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