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Wave energy gradients across a Maldivian atoll: Implications for island geomorphology

by Paul S. Kench, Robert W. Brander, Kevin E. Parnell, Roger F. McLean
Geomorphology ()

Abstract

Exposure to wave energy has been used to account for a range of ecological, geological and geomorphic processes in coral reef systems, but few attempts have been made to quantify spatial variations in energy at the atoll scale. This study presents results of measurements of wave energy on reef platforms across South Maalhosmadulu Atoll, Maldives and their implications for island geomorphology. The atoll has a perforated rim (37% effective aperture) and experiences predictable shifts in monsoon winds from the west (8 months) and northeast (4 months). Results show that wave energy affecting the atoll is considerably greater during the westerly monsoon. Atoll structure promotes significant changes in wave energy and wave characteristics across the atoll. Short period (3-8 s) monsoon-driven wave energy, which is significant on windward reefs, is dissipated on the peripheral reef network and the density of lagoonal patch reefs limits development of locally generated wind-wave energy across the lagoon. However, longer period swell (8-20 s) propagates through the lagoon to leeward reefs. A windward to leeward decay in wave energy is evident in the westerly monsoon, but not in the northeast monsoon, when long period swell (from the southwest) remains significant on western reefs. Net energy calculations that account for seasonal changes in wave energy across the atoll identify a steep west-east gradient that has geomorphic significance for island building. Western reefs are dominated by westerly flowing energy that is 4.5-7 times the total energy input elsewhere in the atoll. Wave energy on central reefs is balanced, whereas net energy on eastern reef platforms is dominated by eastward propagating waves. This steep energy gradient provides a physical explanation for the presence and distribution of islands on reef platforms across the atoll and provides quantitative support for the theory of Gardiner [Gardiner, J.S., 1903. The Fauna and Geography of the Maldives and Laccadives Archipelagoes. Cambridge University Press, London] to explain the prevalence of islands on the eastern atoll reef rim. © 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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