Frequency of Effective Wave Activity and the Recession of Coastal Bluffs: Calvert Cliffs, Maryland

Peter R. Wilcock, David S. Miller, Rachel H. Shea, Randall T. Kerkin


The Calvert Cliffs, Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, USA, erode by direct wave undercutting or by freeze/thaw erosion accompanied by wave removal of slope debris. Directly undercut slopes recede more rapidly, with long-term rates exceeding 1.0 m/yr; freeze/thaw slopes recede at rates approaching 0.5 m/yr. The frequency of wave height and water level at the shoreline is estimated for eleven sites based on a 37-year wind record, estimates of storm surge, offshore wave geometry, nearshore wave transformation, and breaking wave type. Locations experiencing the largest slope recession are not uniformly those with the largest cumulative wave energy; the resistance to erosion of the slope toe must also be accounted for. An index of relative wave strength is defined as the ratio of wave pressure T and the cohesive strength S of the slope material. For the Calvert Cliffs, a minimum relative wave strength for initiating erosion of intact material is 0.05 < T/S < 0.1. A cumulative duration of ≥ 50 hours per year for T/S ≥ 0.1 distinguishes undercut and nonundercut slopes and recession rates greater or lesser than 0.5 m/yr. The relative wave strength index may be used to identify sites at risk of increased erosion. At one site with a small historical erosion rate, the loss of a protective beach and associated decrease in toe elevation caused a positive shift in the frequency of large T/S. Direct wave undercutting and increased slope recession may be anticipated at this site, as indicated by the development of an undercut notch during the course of the study.


Coastal erosion; wave climate; sea cliffs

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