Changing water levels and sandy barrier morphodynamics, eastern lake Ontario

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Although sandy barriers are a key component of many Great Lakes coastal wetlands, little is known about their geomorphic development in response to water-level changes, despite widespread implications for hydrology and ecology. This paper addresses the morphodynamic development of the Sandy Pond barrier, eastern Lake Ontario, which underwent a sudden change in base-level regime with the onset of regulatory practices. The creation of new inlets with coeval closing of pre-existing ones, which had previously been coupled to shifts in base water level > 1 m, has not occurred since restriction of the natural lake-level oscillatory range. Barrier breaching is facilitated by decadal lake-level highs and inlet stability by entrenchment during lake-level fall and lowstand conditions. Water-level extremes have been absent since the 1970s, with stunting of the decadal oscillatory change signature (to < 1 m of variance) and a mean level above that of the pre-regulatory period. Rather than persistence of the cyclic dynamics of barrier-breaching and channel entrenchment (associated with abandonment elsewhere), the new conditions promoted lateral migration of the present channel and the formation of recurved beach ridges along the updrift inlet side. This morphology is not recognized in relict depositional architectures associated with former known inlet positions. While estuarine flushing capacity continues to be maintained (by constant inlet-channel dimensions), there are implications of this new geomorphic trajectory for barrier-landform succession and ecology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number52
JournalJournal of Coastal Conservation
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Coastal barrier
  • Inlet channel
  • Lake-level change
  • Overwash
  • Spit accretion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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