Interactions between human manipulations and landscape processes can form a dynamically coupled system because landscape-forming processes affect humans, and humans increasingly manipulate landscape-forming processes. Despite the dynamic nature of sandy barrier islands, economic incentive and recreational opportunities attract humans and development. Storm-driven sediment-transport events that build barrier islands constitute hazards to humans and infrastructure, and manipulations aimed at preventing or mitigating such events link human actions and long-term island morphodynamics. To explore how the behavior of a natural barrier island differs from one in which humans are dynamic system constituents, we use a numerical model of storm-driven sediment redistributions within the shoreface/island/back-barrier system and human rearrangements of sediment within the subaerial barrier island. In a modeled natural system, periods of dune growth and island stability, initiated by stochastic lulls in storm activity, alternate with stormy periods, in which shoreline erosion and frequent overwash regulate dune heights. When humans are included in the model, overwash deposits are removed from the island, and artificially high dunes are rebuilt. These manipulations tend to filter moderate overwash events. However, with shoreline erosion and rising sea level, these manipulations promote lower and narrower islands in the long term, so that when dunes are overtopped, the sediment redistributions are more severe. Thus, the coupled human/barrier system exhibits wider swings between increased island stability and sudden island displacements. Increasing the height of artificially maintained dunes increases the rate of island narrowing and, therefore, infrastructure relocation, and increases the need for sediment to be imported from outside the system.
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