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Waves, Beaches, and Coasts

The previous five chapters have dealt with the sculpturing of the land by mass wasting, streams, ground water, glaciers, and wind. Water waves are another agent of erosion, transportation, and deposition of sediment. Along the shores of oceans and lakes, waves break against the land, building it up in some places and tearing down in others.

The energy of the waves comes from the wind. This energy is used to a large extent in eroding and transporting sediment along the shoreline. Understanding how waves travel and move sediment can help you see how easily the balance of supply, transportation, and deposition of beach sediment can be disturbed. Such disturbances can be natural or human-made, and the changes that result often destroy beachfront homes and block harbors with sand.

Beaches have been called "rivers of sand" because breaking waves, as they sort and transport sediment, tend to move sand parallel to the shoreline. In this chapter we look at how beaches are formed and also examine the influence of wave action on such coastal features as sea cliffs, barrier islands, and terraces.

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