Frequent Non-Storm Washover of Barrier Islands, Pacific Coast of Colombia


  • Robert A. Morton
  • Juan L. Gonzalez
  • Gloria I. Lopez
  • Ivan D. Correa


Barrier islands, Pacific coast, Colombia, El Niño


Barrier islands of the Pacific coast of Colombia repeatedly experience severe washover even when breaking waves in the eastern Pacific are low and onshore winds are calm. On the barrier island of El Choncho, recent non-storm washover events have breached a new inlet, caused rapid beach retreat, destroyed a shoreline protection structure, and flooded a small village of indigenous people so frequently that it had to be relocated. Barrier washover may be augmented by lowered land elevations associated with earthquake-induced subsidence or long-term beach retreat, but temporally it is most closely associated with a 20 to 30 cm regional increase in sea level caused by El Nino. The contradiction of a tranquil tropical island scene simultaneously disturbed by hostile turbulent washover may be unique at present, but it exemplifies how coastal plains throughout the world would be affected if sea level were to rise rapidly as a result of global warming.