Cliff Retreat Contribution to the Littoral Sediment Budget along the Baltic Sea Coastline of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany

Mobile coastal sediments, such as sand and gravel, build up and protect wave-dominated coastlines. In sediment-starved coastal environments, knowledge about the natural sources and transport pathways of those sediments is of utmost importance for the understanding and management of coastlines. Along the Baltic Sea coast of Schleswig-Holstein (Germany), the retreat of active cliffs—made of cohesive Pleistocene deposits—supplies a wide size range of sediments to the coastal system. The material is reworked and sorted by hydrodynamic forcing: the less mobile stones and boulders remain close to the source area; the finest sediments, mostly clay and silt, are transported offshore into areas of low energy; and the fractions of sand and fine gravels mostly remain in the nearshore zone, where they make up the littoral sediment budget. They contribute to the morphodynamic development of sandy coastlines and nearshore bar systems. Exemplarily for this coastal stretch and based on an extensive review of local studies we quantify the volume of the potential littoral sediment budget from cliff retreat. At an average retreat rate of 0.24 m yr−1 (<0.1–0.73 m yr−1), the assessment indicates a weighted average sediment volume of 1.5 m3 yr−1 m−1 (<0.1–9.5 m3 yr−1 m−1) per meter active cliff. For the whole area, this results in an absolute sediment budget Vs,total of 39,000–161,000 m3 yr−1. The accuracy of the results is limited by system understanding and data quality and coverage. The study discusses uncertainties in the calculation of littoral sediment budgets from cliff retreat and provides the first area-wide budget assessment along the sediment-starved Baltic Sea coastline of Schleswig-Holstein.


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