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Causal Loop Analysis of coastal geomorphological systems
Geomorphology, Volume: 256, Pages: 36 - 48
Swansea University Author: Dominic Reeve
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As geomorphologists embrace ever more sophisticated theoretical frameworks that shift from simple notions of evolution towards single steady equilibria to recognise the possibility of multiple response pathways and outcomes, morphodynamic modellers are facing the problem of how to keep track of an e...
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As geomorphologists embrace ever more sophisticated theoretical frameworks that shift from simple notions of evolution towards single steady equilibria to recognise the possibility of multiple response pathways and outcomes, morphodynamic modellers are facing the problem of how to keep track of an ever-greater number of system feedbacks. Within coastal geomorphology, capturing these feedbacks is critically important, especially as the focus of activity shifts from reductionist models founded on sediment transport fundamentals to more synthesist ones intended to resolve emergent behaviours at decadal to centennial scales. This paper addresses the challenge of mapping the feedback structure of processes controlling geomorphic system behaviour with reference to illustrative applications of Causal Loop Analysis at two study cases: (1) the erosion–accretion behaviour of graded (mixed) sediment beds, and (2) the local alongshore sediment fluxes of sand-rich shorelines. These case study examples are chosen on account of their central role in the quantitative modelling of geomorphological futures and as they illustrate different types of causation. Causal loop diagrams, a form of directed graph, are used to distil the feedback structure to reveal, in advance of more quantitative modelling, multi-response pathways and multiple outcomes. In the case of graded sediment bed, up to three different outcomes (no response, and two disequilibrium states) can be derived from a simple qualitative stability analysis. For the sand-rich local shoreline behaviour case, two fundamentally different responses of the shoreline (diffusive and anti-diffusive), triggered by small changes of the shoreline cross-shore position, can be inferred purely through analysis of the causal pathways. Explicit depiction of feedback-structure diagrams is beneficial when developing numerical models to explore coastal morphological futures. By explicitly mapping the feedbacks included and neglected within a model, the modeller can readily assess if critical feedback loops are included.
This paper develops ideas contained in a flagship NERC project called iCOASST to develop methods for forecasting medium scale changes in coastal morphology. The results of this project have since been taken up by consultants (HRWallingford) to implement on behalf of the Environment Agency to assist them in developing shoreline management strategies.
Systems analysis; Behavioural model; Emergent behaviour; Feedback analysis; Causal loop diagram; Directed graph; High Angle Wave Instability
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