1 Landforms from Wave Erosion and Deposition

Landforms from Wave Erosion
and Deposition
Dana Desonie, Ph.D.
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Printed: August 19, 2013
Dana Desonie, Ph.D.
Concept 1. Landforms from Wave Erosion and Deposition
Landforms from Wave
Erosion and Deposition
• Describe how waves erode and deposit sediments.
How is surfing like erosion?
Have you ever surfed or even body surfed? Have you felt a wave crash onto your body and then try to drag you
offshore? Surfers use the power of waves for a wild ride. But that power can also be used to create landforms along
a shoreline.
Wave Erosion
Wave energy does the work of erosion at the shore. Waves approach the shore at some angle so the inshore part of the
wave reaches shallow water sooner than the part that is further out. The shallow part of the wave "feels" the bottom
first. This slows down the inshore part of the wave and makes the wave "bend." This bending is called refraction.
• In this animation, notice how the wave refracts as it comes into the beach. http://www.grossmont.edu/garyjac
Wave refraction either concentrates wave energy or disperses it. In quiet water areas, such as bays, wave energy
is dispersed, so sand is deposited. Areas that stick out into the water are eroded by the strong wave energy that
concentrates its power on the wave-cut cliff (Figure 1.1).
These colorful cliffs on Martha’s Vineyard
are eroded by wave action. Note that the
topsoil and vegetation at the top of the cliff
are undercut by the falling sand and clay
Other features of wave erosion are pictured and named in Figure 1.2. A wave-cut platform is the level area formed
by wave erosion as the waves undercut a cliff. An arch is produced when waves erode through a cliff. When a sea
arch collapses, the isolated towers of rocks that remain are known as sea stacks.
(a) The high ground is a large wave-cut platform formed from years of wave erosion. (b) A cliff eroded from two
sides produces an arch. (c) The top of an arch erodes away, leaving behind a tall sea stack.
Wave Deposition
Rivers carry sediments from the land to the sea. If wave action is high, a delta will not form. Waves will spread the
sediments along the coastline to create a beach. Waves also erode sediments from cliffs and shorelines and transport
Concept 1. Landforms from Wave Erosion and Deposition
Quartz, rock fragments, and shell make
up the sand along a beach.
them onto beaches. Beaches can be made of mineral grains like quartz, rock fragments, and also pieces of shell or
coral (Figure 1.3).
Waves continually move sand along the shore. Waves also move sand from the beaches on shore to bars of sand
offshore as the seasons change. In the summer, waves have lower energy so they bring sand up onto the beach. In
the winter, higher energy waves bring the sand back offshore.
Some of the features formed by wave-deposited sand are in Figure 1.4. These features include barrier islands and
spits. A spit is sand connected to land and extending into the water. A spit may hook to form a tombolo.
Shores that are relatively flat and gently sloping may be lined with long, narrow barrier islands (Figure 1.5). Most
barrier islands are a few kilometers wide and tens of kilometers long.
In its natural state, a barrier island acts as the first line of defense against storms such as hurricanes. When barrier
islands are urbanized (Figure 1.5), hurricanes damage houses and businesses rather than vegetated sandy areas in
which sand can move. A large hurricane brings massive problems to the urbanized area.
Protecting Shorelines
Intact shore areas protect inland areas from storms that come off the ocean. Where the natural landscape is altered or
the amount of development makes damage from a storm too costly to consider, people use several types of structures
to attempt to slow down wave erosion. A few are pictured below (Figure 1.6). A groin is a long, narrow pile of
rocks built perpendicular to the shoreline to keep sand at that beach. A breakwater is a structure built in the water
parallel to the shore in order to protect the shore from strong incoming waves. A seawall is also parallel to the shore,
but it is built onshore.
People do not always want to choose safe building practices, and instead choose to build a beach house right on the
beach. Protecting development from wave erosion is difficult and expensive.
Protection does not always work. The northeastern coast of Japan was protected by anti-tsunami seawalls. Yet waves
from the 2011 tsunami that resulted from the Tohoku earthquake washed over the top of some seawalls and caused
others to collapse. Japan is now planning to build even higher seawalls to prepare for any future (and inevitable)
Examples of features formed by wave-deposited sand.
Much of North Carolina’s coast is protected by barrier islands that enclose
Pamlico Sound. The thin white strips on
the outer edges of the islands are beach
• Ocean waves have a tremendous amount of energy and so they may do a great deal of erosion. Some landforms
created by erosion are platforms, arches, and sea stacks.
• Transported sand will eventually be deposited on beaches, spits, or barrier islands.
• People love the shore, so they develop these regions and then must build groins, breakwaters, and seawalls to
protect them.
Concept 1. Landforms from Wave Erosion and Deposition
(a) Groins trap sand on the up-current side so then people down current build groins to trap sand too. (b)
Breakwaters are visible in this satellite image parallel to the shoreline. (c) Seawalls are similar to breakwaters
except built onshore. Extremely large storm waves may destroy the sea wall, leaving the area unprotected.
Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.
Click image to the left for more content.
1. What are the two methods to stop coastal erosion?
2. What is a sea wall?
3. What is a jetty?
4. What is a groynes?
5. What are breakwaters?
6. Why don’t people like most of the methods to prevent coastal erosion?
7. What is beach nourishment?
8. What problems does beach nourishment cause?
1. Describe how a set of waves erodes a rocky headland.
2. What processes cause spits and barrier islands to form?
3. How do barrier islands and mangroves protect beaches? What happens when these natural barriers are destroyed?
1. Courtesy of US Geological Survey. . Public Domain
2. (a) Yummifruitbat; (b) Image copyright DavidEwingPhotography, 2010; (c) Image copyright Pecold, 2010.
. (a) CC-BY-SA 2.5; (b) Used under license from Shutterstock.com; (c) Used under license from Shutterstock.com
3. Wilson44691. . Public Domain
4. Surachit. . Public Domain
5. Courtesy of NASA. . Public Domain
6. All three images courtesy of Oikos-team. . All three images are in the public domain