Ocean Dynamics

, Volume 68, Issue 6, pp 749–759 | Cite as

Beach recovery capabilities after El Niño 2015–2016 at Ensenada Beach, Northern Baja California

  • Amaia Ruiz de Alegría-Arzaburu
  • Jesús Adrián Vidal-Ruiz
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on the 8th International conference on Coastal Dynamics, Helsingør, Denmark, 12-16 June 2017


This study investigates the recovery capabilities of a single-barred beach in the Pacific Mexican coast before and after the 2015–2016 El Niño winter. Concurrent hydrodynamic and morphological data collected over a 3-year period (August 2014–2017) were analysed to determine the subaerial-subtidal volumetric exchange and cross-shore subtidal sandbar migrations, in relation to the incident wave forcing. The beach presented a seasonal seaward and landward sandbar migration cycle. The sandbar migrated offshore during the energetic waves between November and February, and onshore during the milder wave period in spring, until welding to the subaerial beach around May. The transfer of sediment towards the subaerial section continued over the summer, reaching a complete recovery by September/October. Prior to El Niño, the subaerial beach successfully recovered by the end of summer 2015 through the landward sandbar migration process. The 2015–2016 energetic winter waves caused a subaerial volume loss of ~ 140 m3 m−1 (from October 2015 to March 2016), more than twice the amount eroded in the other winters, and the sandbar moved further offshore and to deeper depths (3–4 m) than the winter before. In addition, the energetic 2015–2016 winter waves lasted for 2 months longer than in other years, making the 2016 spring shorter. Consequently, during the onshore migration, the sandbar was unable of reaching shallow depths, and a large portion of sand remained in the subtidal beach. The subaerial beach recovered 60 and 65% of the loss in the 2016 and 2017 summers, respectively. It is concluded that the landward migration process of the sandbar during the spring is critical to ensure a full subaerial beach recovery over the mild wave period in summer. The recovery capabilities of the subaerial beach will depend on the cross-shore distance and depth where the sandbar is located, and on the duration of mild wave conditions required for the sandbar to migrate onshore.


Subtidal sandbars Cross-shore migration Subaerial beach Subtidal beach Sediment transport Climate change 



The contribution of all field assistants and the MORDICS research group ( is acknowledged, especially the technical support provided in the field by Ernesto Carsolio, Julio López and Eduardo Gil. We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestions.

Funding information

The authors are grateful to CONACyT for the funding provided through CB-2014-238765 and INFR-2013-01I005 with the projects 238765 and 205020.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto de Investigaciones OceanológicasUniversidad Autónoma de Baja CaliforniaEnsenadaMexico

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