Morphological wave attenuation of the nature-based flood defense: A case study from Chongming Dongtan Shoal, China

Sci Total Environ. 2022 Mar 24;831:154813. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.154813. Online ahead of print.


The risk of coastal storm flooding is deteriorating under global warming, especially for the heavily urbanized deltaic cities, like Shanghai. The Nature-Based Flood Defense (NBFD), as an eco-friendly design alternative for hard infrastructure against coastal flooding, is gaining attention. Nevertheless, the vulnerability of saltmarsh due to the biological instability, resulting in the uncertainties on coastal protection, is considered the bottleneck challenge that hinders the broad application of the NBFD concept. We argue that except for direct wave attenuations by the above-ground vegetation during storms, the gradual sediment trapping and consolidating during the non-storm period is a more crucial function of coastal saltmarsh, which mitigates storm waves by forming a broader and higher intertidal morphology. This benefit is an important value of saltmarsh-based coastal protection but is largely neglected in many NBFD studies. Taking Chongming Dongtan Shoal (CDS) as a case study, we demonstrated that over 2/3th wave attenuation during storms is contributed by the saltmarsh morphology, and less than 1/3th is from the saltmarsh vegetation. The relative contribution of the saltmarsh morphology on wave mitigation is even enhanced under the increasing storm grades from 100 yrs. to 5000 yrs. return levels. To promote this idea for broader application, the cost-benefit analysis of three artificial NBFD solutions (e.g., submerged breakwater, timber piles, and sand nourishment) are compared. We identified an optimal measure of the submerged breakwater for CDS, which minimizes the ecological impact and maximizes the cost-benefit. Moreover, the wave-free zone behind the breakwater increases the chance of vegetation establishment, helps suspended sediment trapping, hence fostering a beneficent cycle for saltmarsh restoration. In summary, ignoring the contribution of saltmarsh morphology on wave attenuation largely underestimated the benefits of vegetation-based coastal protection, which should be greatly emphasized to provide a solid basis for developing NBFD.

Keywords: Coastal protection; Cost-benefit analysis; Numerical simulation; Saltmarsh morphology; Yangtze estuary.