Drivers of Morphodynamic Change and Hypoxic Events in Southern California Lagoons

Research > Current Projects > Drivers of Morphodynamic Change and Hypoxic Events in Southern California Lagoons


Sarah N Giddings, Assistant Professor, University of California, San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Geno Pawlak, Associate Professor, University of California, San Diego, Dept. of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Project Funding: 2016-2018

Project Overview:

Low inflow estuaries, prevalent throughout Southern California, provide extensive ecological and human benefits. The number and total area of these systems have been drastically reduced and those systems that remain are heavily modified by human development. It is unclear if these estuaries can maintain their roles as key contributors to habitat, biodiversity, carbon storage, and coastal protection. The response and resiliency of these systems to elevated water level events are particularly poorly understood. Some work has shown that extreme events have the ability to drastically modify morphology and transition vegetation structure, yet the physics underlying these processes has not been studied in detail. Thus we aim to explore in detail the coupled hydrodynamic-sediment transport mechanisms and their impact on larger scale system morphodynamics and hydrodynamics in urbanized Southern California estuaries in order to inform sustainable development and future adaptation.

Our project objectives are to:
  • Assess the impact of wave-current interactions on sediment transport and the morphodynamic responses to extreme events in Southern California LIEs using in-situ and remote observations
  • Compare results from two different types of LIEs (marsh vs. embayment)
  • Use these observations to make predictions about the response of these estuaries to future conditions including sea level rise and elevated water level events in order to assist managers in planning dredging events and in adopting coastal resiliency programs

We plan to approach these broad objectives by asking the following research questions:
  • What is the relative importance of waves, wave-current interactions, and mean currents in driving sediment transport in estuarine mouths?
  • How does hydraulic control at an estuarine mouth regulate wave-current interactions and thus sediment transport and hypoxia (through reduced flushing) on tidal and event time scales?
  • How will an embayment respond relative to an intertidal marsh-like system?

Read the summary project proposal

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  • USC Sea Grant
  • 3454 Trousdale Pkwy, CAS 200
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-0373
  • (213) 740 - 1961