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Coastal geography - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wave action and longshore drift
Port Campbell in southern Australia is a high energy shoreline.
The waves of different strengths that constantly hit against the shoreline are the primary movers and shapers of the coastline. Despite the simplicity of this process, the differences between waves and the rocks they hit result in hugely varying shapes.
The effect that waves have depends on their strength. Strong, also called destructive waves occur on high energy beaches and are typical of Winter. They reduce the quantity of sediment present on the beach by carrying it out to bars under the sea. Constructive, weak waves are typical of low energy beaches and occur most during summer. They do the opposite to destructive waves and increase the size of the beach by piling sediment up onto the berm.
One of the most important transport mechanisms results from wave refraction. Since waves rarely break onto a shore at right angles, the upward movement of water onto the beach (swash) occurs at an oblique angle. However, the return of water (backwash) is at right angles to the beach, resulting in the net movement of beach material laterally. This movement is known as beach drift (Figure 3). The endless cycle of swash and backwash and resulting beach drift can be observed on all beaches.
Rhossili in Wales is a low energy shoreline.
Probably the most important effect is longshore drift (LSD)(Also known as Littoral Drift), the process by which sediment is continuously moved along beaches by wave action. LSD occurs because waves hit the shore at an angle, pick up sediment (sand) on the shore and carry it down the beach at an angle (this is called swash). Due to gravity, the water then falls back perpendicular to the beach, dropping its sediment as it loses energy (this is called backwash). The sediment is then picked up by the next wave and pushed slightly further down the beach, resulting in a continual movement of sediment in one direction. This is the reason why long strips of coast are covered in sediment, not just the areas around river mouths, which are the main sources of beach sediment. LSD is reliant on a constant supply of sediment from rivers and if sediment supply is stopped or sediment falls into a submarine canals at any point along a beach, this can lead to bare beaches further along the shore.
LSD helps create many landforms including barriers, bay beaches and spits. In general LSD action serves to straighten the coast because the creation of barriers cuts off bays from the sea while sediment usually builds up in bays because the waves there are weaker (due to wave refraction), while sediment is carried away from the exposed headlands. The lack of sediment on headlands removes the protection of waves from them and makes them more vulnerable to weathering while the gathering of sediment in bays (where longshore drift is unable to remove it) protects the bays from further erosion and makes them pleasant recreational beaches.