Articles | Volume 11, issue 1
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 11, 205–217, 2011
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 11, 205–217, 2011

Research article 21 Jan 2011

Research article | 21 Jan 2011

Short-term retreat statistics of a slowly eroding coastal cliff

A. P. Young1, R. T. Guza1, W. C. O'Reilly1, R. E. Flick1, and R. Gutierrez2 A. P. Young et al.
  • 1Integrative Oceanography Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA
  • 2Center for Space Research, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA

Abstract. The frequency, spatial distribution, and dimensions of coastal cliff retreats, a basic statistic underlying cliff top hazard assessment, are presented for 7.1 km of unprotected and slowly retreating coastal cliffs near Point Loma in San Diego, California, US. Using 8 airborne light detection and ranging (lidar) surveys collected over 5.5 years, 130 individual cliff edge failures (primarily rockfalls, block falls, and topples) were detected. Footprint areas varied from 3 to 268 m2, maximum landward retreats from 0.8 to 10 m, and alongshore lengths from 2 to 68 m. The failures with the largest landward retreats were also relatively long, and 13% of the slides accounted for 50% of the lost cliff area over the study period. On this short (5.5 years) time scale, "no change" was the most common observation (84% of the cliff edge). Probability distributions of non-zero cliff retreat during each time interval usually had a single peak between 1 and 2.5 m. Intervals with high mean retreat had elevated numbers of failure in all class sizes, and also contained the largest individual retreats. Small and medium slides tended to reoccur preferentially (relative to randomly) near previous small and medium slides, forming short-term hot spots, while large slides were less likely to reoccur near previous large slides. Cumulative distributions of landslide failure parameters (area, mean retreat, maximum retreat, and length) follow an inverse power-law for medium to large size events, similar to previously reported distributions of coastal and inland landsliding.