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The study of the development of shorelines has been carried out by geologists and physiographers who have classified the different types of coasts largely upon the basis of the extent to which erosion and deposition have affected the coastal configuration. Johnson (1919, 1925) has described the characteristic features of the coast and shallow-water zone, and these and other sources should be consulted in order to appreciate the complex nature of the transition zone between land and sea, where the effects of erosion and deposition, both subaerial and marine, must be

taken into account. In the chapter on marine sedimentation (chapter XX) the properties of beach and shallow-water sediments are discussed with reference to the source of sedimentary debris, the transporting agencies, and the roles of waves and currents in erosion and deposition. Although many observational data have been obtained on the features of the coastline, the evaluation of the relative importance of the different factors involved has been handicapped by the lack of adequate knowledge of the characteristics of waves, tidal currents, and other motions in the sea as transporting and eroding agents.

The classification of shorelines has been treated by Johnson (1919) and Shepard (1937). Shepard's primary classification is based upon a consideration of the following factors:

  1. Primary or youthful coasts with configurations due mainly to nonmarine agencies.

    1. Those shaped by terrestrial erosion agencies and drowned by deglaciation or down-warping.

    2. Those shaped by terrestrial depositional agencies such as rivers, glaciers, and wind.

    3. Those shaped by volcanic explosions or lava flows.

    4. Those shaped by diastrophic activity.

  2. Secondary or mature coasts with configurations primarily the result of marine agencies.

    1. Those shaped by marine erosion.

    2. Those shaped by marine deposition.

The beach is defined as the zone extending from the upper and landward limit of effective wave action to low-tide level. Consequently, the beach represents the real transition zone between land and sea, since it is covered and exposed intermittently by the waves and tides. The characteristics of beaches depend so much upon the nature of the source material composing their sediments and the effects of the erosion, transportation, and deposition by waves and currents that they can be more profitably discussed in the chapter on marine sedimentation. The upper part of the beach is covered only during periods of high waves, particularly when storms coincide with high spring tides. The slope of the beach is largely determined by the texture of the sediments (p. 1018), but the extent of the beach will depend upon the range in tide. The terminology applied to the various parts of the beach and the adjacent regions is shown in fig. 11, taken from a report by the Beach Erosion Board (U. S. Beach Erosion Board, 1933).

Beaches composed of unconsolidated material are characteristically regions of instability. Every wave disturbs more or less of the smaller sedimentary particles, and the character of the waves will determine whether or not there is a net removal or accretion of sediment in any

locality during a given time interval. Currents that effect a net transport of material kept in suspension by the waves also play an important part in shaping the beach. Fluctuations in the direction and height of the waves or in the direction of the currents alongshore usually result in changes in the profile of the beach. Such changes are commonly seasonal, and corresponding changes occur in the amount of sand in any locality and in the profile of the beach (Shepard and LaFond, 1940). The instability of the beach over relatively short time intervals has many implications in connection with the beach as an environment for sedentary organisms (chapter VIII).


Terminology applied to various parts of the beach profile. Berms are small impermanent terraces which are formed by deposition during calm weather and by erosion during storms. The plunge point is the variable zone where the waves break, hence its location depends on the height of the waves and the stage of the tide.

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Although subject to short-period disturbances, the beach in general represents an equilibrium condition, despite the slow erosion of the coast or the permanent deposition that may be taking place. If the normal interplay of waves and currents is impeded in any way, as by the building of piers, breakwaters, or jetties, the character of the beach may be entirely changed. In some instances, highly undesirable erosion of the coast may result, and in others equally undesirable deposition may result. These changes will proceed until a new equilibrium is established that may render the value of the structure worthless for the purpose for which it was originally intended. The construction of breakwaters, jetties, sea walls or groins, and similar structures on an open coast should be undertaken only after a careful investigation of the character and source of the sedimentary material, the prevailing currents, the strength and direction of the waves, and other factors that determine the equilibrium form of the beach. The Beach Erosion Board of the U. S. Army, Corps of Engineers, as well as various private organizations, are engaged in studies of this type.

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