Climate change, and especially the associated acceleration of sea-level rise, forms a serious threat to the Wadden Sea. The Wadden Sea contains the world’s largest coherent intertidal flat area and it is known that these flats can drown when the rate of sea-level rise exceeds a critical limit. As a result, the intertidal flats would then be permanently inundated, seriously affecting the ecological functioning of the system. The determination of this critical limit and the modelling of the transient process of how a tidal basin responds to accelerated sea-level rise is of critical importance. In this contribution we revisit the modelling of the response of the Wadden Sea tidal basins to sea-level rise using a basin scale morphological model (aggregated scale morphological interaction between tidal basin and adjacent coast, ASMITA). Analysis using this aggregated scale model shows that the critical rate of sea-level rise is not merely influenced by the morphological equilibrium and the morphological time scale, but also depends on the grain size distribution of sediment in the tidal inlet system. As sea-level rises, there is a lag in the morphological response, which means that the basin will be deeper than the systems morphological equilibrium. However, so long as the rate of sea-level rise is constant and below a critical limit, this offset becomes constant and a dynamic equilibrium is established. This equilibrium deviation as well as the time needed to achieve the dynamic equilibrium increase non-linearly with increasing rates of sea-level rise. As a result, the response of a tidal basin to relatively fast sea-level rise is similar, no matter if the sea-level rise rate is just below, equal or above the critical limit. A tidal basin will experience a long process of ‘drowning’ when sea-level rise rate exceeds about 80% of the critical limit. The insights from the present study can be used to improve morphodynamic modelling of tidal basin response to accelerating sea-level rise and are useful for sustainable management of tidal inlet systems.
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