Thresholds in road network functioning on US Atlantic and Gulf barrier islands

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Sofia Aldabet , Evan B Goldstein , Eli Lazarus 


Barrier islands predominate the Atlantic and Gulf coastlines of the USA, where development exceeds national trends. Forward-looking models of barrier island dynamics often include feedbacks with management practices – particularly those aimed at mitigating damage to buildings from natural hazards – and how real estate markets may be linked to barrier island dynamics. However, models thus far do not account for networks of infrastructure, such as roads, and how the functioning of infrastructure networks might influence management strategies. Understanding infrastructure networks on barrier islands is an essential step toward improved insight and foresight into the future dynamics of human-altered barriers. Here, we examine thresholds in the functioning of 72 US Atlantic and Gulf Coast barrier islands. We use digital elevation models to assign an elevation to each intersection in each road network. From each road network we sequentially remove intersections, starting from the lowest elevation. In each network we identify a critical intersection – and corresponding elevation – at which the functioning of the network fails, and we match the elevation of each critical intersection to local annual exceedance probabilities for extreme high-water levels. We find a range of failure thresholds for barrier island road network functioning, and also find that no single metric – absolute elevation, annual exceedance probability, or a quantitative metric of robustness – sufficiently ranks the susceptibility of barrier road networks to failure. Future work can incorporate thresholds for road network into forward-looking models of barrier island dynamics that include hazard-mitigation practices for protecting infrastructure.



Analysis, Geomorphology, Nature and Society Relations, Sustainability


barrier island, flooding, network analysis, development, network robustness, road network


Published: 2021-12-04 11:50

Last Updated: 2021-12-04 19:50


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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Conflict of interest statement:

Data Availability (Reason not available):
Links to data & code are provided in the manuscript.

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