Shoreline Process

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Shoreline Process


Waves are by far the most important agents of shoreline modification. Apart from those very occasionally started by earthquakes, all other waves are produced by wind. The wind exerts a drag on the surface-water particles and sets up small orbital motions in the water, largest near the surface, becoming less with depth. Three factors govern the size of the wave: the wind speed, the duration of the wind, and the distance or 'fetch' over which the wave travels. The largest waves will inevitably be produced by prolonged gale-force winds blowing over ocean surfaces. Waves reaching a coast after traveling long distances form a swell.

When waves reach shallow water near a coast, the sea floor alters the dimensions of the wave. Although the wave period of time remains the same, the wave slows down, such that the wavelength is shortened, but the wave height increases. The wave steepness increases until it becomes so steep that it breaks. In the breaker or surf zone, the wave force is translated up the beach and creates a swash. This returns as backwash either in a sheet flow or as a rip current, a localized concentration of backwash, which can be very dangerous to bathers. Wave steepness is a critical parameter in making waves either constructive or destructive. Constructive waves (spilling breakers) have a low index of steepness; destructive waves (plunging breakers) have a relatively high h/L ratio.

Waves are also subject to refraction as they approach the coast. Where oblique waves approach a straight shore, the frictional drag exerted by the sea floor turns the waves to break more nearly parallel to the shore. On an embayed coast, headlands interfere with the waves first and set up refraction such that wave attack is concentrated on the headland and is much reduced in the bays.

Erosion. Features of Coast Line. Many landforms are formed at the coast by the action of erosion.

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