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CTB3300WCx Introduction to Water and Climate

WS 2 Coasts

Marcel Stive

Inthismodulewewillexploretheoriginandevolutionof
beaches.Wewillstartbylookingatafairlylargetimescale,
spanningmanythousandsofyears.

Asthisgraphshows,thelasttwohundredthousandyears,the
earthhasexperiencedanumberofglacialorcoldand
interglacialorwarmperiods.About20.000yearsago,the
EarthexperiencedtheLastGlacialMaximum,acoldperiod.
Presently,weareinthewarmperiodoftheHolocene
interglacial.Notethatthesealevelwasaslowas135mbelow
presentsealevelattheLastGlacialMaximum,risingfastsince.
AroundthelastGlacialMaximum,theshallowNorthSeabasin
wasalmostcompletelydry.

Asaresult,forquitesomelongtime,onecouldactuallytravel,
byland,fromtheEuropeancontinenttotheUK.Asthesea
levelwasrising,thebasinexperiencedflooding.Itisthis
drowningprocess,thathascreatedourpresentdayNorthSea.
ButrisingsealevelshavenotjustimpactedtheNorthSea.
Allaroundtheglobe,therelativelyshallowareasthatsurround
ourcontinentshavebeendrowned.
Wecalltheseareascontinentalshelves.

Theyarenowadaysrecognizedastheunderwaterlandmasses
thatextendfromthecontinents.Theshallowseas,covering
theshelves,havewaterdepthsuptoandoftenlessthan200
m.Thecontinentalshelvesarecoveredbysediments,which
wereeroded,duringmillionsofyears,fromcontinentalrock.
Onland,mechanicalandchemicalprocessescausedthe
breakdownofrockintosmallerparticles.Theseparticleswere
thencarriedtothecontinentalshelfbyrivers,glaciersand
wind.Thedrowningofthecontinentalshelvessincethelast
GlacialMaximum,wasduetotheratherlargeratesofsealevel
rise.
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However,inthelastthousandsofyears,therateofsealevel
risehasleveledoff,toabout1to3mm/yearinthelast
century.Asaresult,thiseustaticorabsolutesealevelriseis
presentlyofsecondaryimportance.Thiscanofcoursechange
againiftherateofsealevelrisewillincreasesignificantlyin
thefuture.

Thereareobservationsthatsuggestthatsealevelisstartingto
risefaster,say3or4mm/year.

ThelatestprojectionsoftheIPCCevenindicatethatsealevel
risemayincreasetoasmuchas4or7mm/year.Inthe
Netherlands,wehavealsomadeanextremeprojection,which
willeventuallycallformajorprotection.Onalargespatial
scale,firstorderfeaturesoftheworldscoastlinesare
determinedbytheirpositiononthetectonicearthplates.

Inthisgraphweseethedelineationofthemanyearthplates
thatformtheearthscrust.Wecallthisthelithosphere.The
lithosphereisdividedin12large,tightlyfittingplatesand
severalsmallones.Inthegraphtherateofmovementofthe
divergingplateboundariesareindicated.Theorderof
magnitudeofthemovementsiscmsperyear.Interestingisnt
it?Weareoncmsperyearmovingearthplatesrightnow.We
seethatplatescollideorconvergeononesideanddivergeon
theotherside.InmanandNordstromintheearly1970swere
thefirsttoobservethatthefirstordercharacterofacoastis
determinedbyitspositionontheearthplates.Asillustratedin
thisgraph,threemainclassesofcoastsaredistinguished:

thefirstclassareleadingedgeorcollisioncoastsassociatedby
theleadingedgeofacrustalplate;theyarecharacterizedby
rugged,cliffedcoastlines,tectonicactivityandanarrowshelf;
thesecondclassaretrailingedgecoaststhatarelocatedaway
fromplateboundariesandaregenerallytectonicallystable
becausethecontinentandadjoinoceanfloorareofthesame
plate,theyhavewidecontinentalshelves;andfinallythethird
classmarginalseacoasts,thesearetectonicallystablecoasts
protectedfromtheopenoceanbyislandarcsatconverging
plateboundaries.Mostoftheworldslargerdeltasarelocated
ontrailingedgeandmarginalseacoasts.
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Thesecoastscombineamplesedimentsupplywithwideand
flatshelves.Thiscombinationensuresarapidbuildingoutof
thecoast.Letushaveacloserlookatthelocationoftwo
importantdeltas:theAmazonandtheGanges.Youmaycheck
thattheyareindeedlocatedfarfromplateboundaries.Also
note,inbothcases,thelargecatchmentareasthatsupply
thesedeltaswithsediment.Aswesuggestedbefore,whenit
comestothefateofacoast,theeustaticorabsolutesealevel
riseispresentlyonlyasecondordereffect.Andthisis
especiallytruefordeltaregions.Sowhatthenaretheprimary
factors?

Therearetwo:the1stfactoristheavailabilityorshortageof
sediment.Anexampleisariverprovidingahighsedimentload
tothecoast.Orthinkofthecutoffofthissedimentsupplydue
tomanmadestructures.The2ndfactorinmanylowlying
regionsislocal,mainlyhumaninducedsubsidenceorsinking
oftheland.Forinstance,groundwaterextractionmayleadto
soilcompaction.Asaresult,thelandsinksrelativetothesea.
Locally,thisleadstoarelativesealevelrise,evenifthe
absolutesealevelsdonotchange.Thesetwofactors,rather
thanabsolutesealevelrise,determinethecoastalsediment
budget.Therefore,theydefinewhetherthecoastaccretes,is
stableorerodes.

Regionalandlocalfeaturesofcoastlinesarealsoaffectedby
tides,windwaves,stormsurges,monsoons,typhoonswhich
arealsocalledcyclonesorhurricanesandtsunami.These
forcingsvaryconsiderablyfromregiontoregionorevenfrom
coasttocoast.Ontopofthatthesedimentsizevariesgreatly.
Therefore,onaregionalandlocalscaleeachbeachisdifferent.

Now,letusfinallylookatarealbeach.Itwillnotcomeasa
surprisethatwechoseaDutchbeachinitscontemporary
setting.Youmayhaveobservedthatbeachesaremadeupof
loosematerial.LetuslistentoMaxonaDutchbeach.Actually,
beachesaremadeofwhateverloosematerialisavailable.If
youaskavisitorwhatadutchbeachismadeof,theywill
probablysay"lightcoloredsand".Butwhatdoesthissand
consistof?It'sactuallytinygrainsofquartzandfeldspar,the
twomostcommonmineralsfoundinsolidrock.But,howdid
allthesegrainsenduphereatthebeach?Andwheredothey
comefrom?Youprobablycanguess,butifyouwanttoknow
thedetails,watchthevideoTheOriginandEvolutionofa
Beach.Youwilllearnthatthesegrainsoriginateprimarilyfrom
theRhineriverbasinandaretransportedbytherivertothe
coastwheretheriverscapacitytocarrythesedimentalong
flowdies.Thenyoumaywonder,whydoesitnotpileupatthe
mouthofriversthatdeliverit?Whydoesitformintobeaches
thatstretchforasmuchhundredkmdownthecoast?Youmay
havenoticedthatwavesusuallyapproachthecoastatan
angle,notstraighton.Thisisbecausethewavedirectionsare
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determinedbythewind,thatcreatedthewaves.Whenwaves
fromacertaindirectionapproachthecoast,theytendto
becomemoreandmoreparalleltothecoastline,butasmall
angleremains.LetusobserveMaxatthebeachwithoblique
waves,throwingsometracersintothewater.Howdoesthis
processinfluencethemovementofthesemarkers?Withevery
breakingwave,theymovetowardsthebeach,buttheyare
transportedalongthecoastaswell..NowMaxusesdye:look
attheaerialshotofthesurfzonewithacloudofdyeinjected
inthemiddleofthesurfzone.Thedyeshowsthewateroutside
thesurfzonehardlymovesatall.Inthesurfzonehowever,the
waterclearlymovesdownthecoast.Itistheprocessofwave
breakingthatdrivesthissocalledalongshorecurrents.
Sedimentisbroughtintosuspensionbythebreakingwaves
andmovesalongwiththecurrent.Thisisthesocalled
longshoretransport.Sowethinkofthebeachasariverof
sand,confinedbetweenthebeachfaceandtheouteredgeof
thesurfzone.Itisthisriverofsandthatdistributesthe
sedimentandcreateslongstretchesofbeach.Sonowyou
havegainedsomeunderstandingofbeachprocesses.Andthe
homeworkvideoTheOriginandEvolutionofaBeachwill
teachyoumore.Theprocessesthatwediscussedarestrongly
influencedbyhumaninterventions.Theseinterventionsare
mostlydirectedtowardsexploitingouruniquecoastal
resources.Thevarioustypesofinterventionsthatmankind
made,stillmakesandwillmakewillbediscussedinthe
submoduleCoastalInterventions.
Seeyouthere!