The Wadden Sea is a unique coastal wetland containing an uninterrupted stretch of tidal flats that span a distance of nearly 500km along the North Sea coast from the Netherlands to Denmark. The development of this system is under pressure of climate change and especially the associated acceleration in sea-level rise (SLR). Sustainable management of the system to ensure safety against flooding of the hinterland, to protect the environmental value and to optimise the economic activities in the area requires predictions of the future morphological development.
The Dutch Wadden Sea has been accreting by importing sediment from the ebb-tidal deltas and the North Sea coasts of the barrier islands. The average accretion rate since 1926 has been higher than that of the local relative SLR. The large sediment imports are predominantly caused by the damming of the Zuiderzee and Lauwerszee rather than due to response to this rise in sea level. The intertidal flats in all tidal basins increased in height to compensate for SLR.
The barrier islands, the ebb-tidal deltas and the tidal basins that comprise tidal channels and flats together form a sediment-sharing system. The residual sediment transport between a tidal basin and its ebb-tidal delta through the tidal inlet is influenced by different processes and mechanisms. In the Dutch Wadden Sea, residual flow, tidal asymmetry and dispersion are dominant. The interaction between tidal channels and tidal flats is governed by both tides and waves. The height of the tidal flats is the result of the balance between sand supply by the tide and resuspension by waves.
At present, long-term modelling for evaluating the effects of accelerated SLR mainly relies on aggregated models. These models are used to evaluate the maximum rates of sediment import into the tidal basins in the Dutch Wadden Sea. These maximum rates are compared to the combined scenarios of SLR and extraction-induced subsidence, in order to explore the future state of the Dutch Wadden Sea.
For the near future, up to 2030, the effect of accelerated SLR will be limited and hardly noticeable. Over the long term, by the year 2100, the effect depends on the SLR scenarios. According to the low-end scenario, there will be hardly any effect due to SLR until 2100, whereas according to the high-end scenario the effect will be noticeable already in 2050.