The World's Beaches

The World's Beaches: A Global Guide to the Science of the Shoreline

Orrin H. Pilkey
William J. Neal
Joseph T. Kelley
J. Andrew G. Cooper
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 302
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnn3p
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The World's Beaches
    Book Description:

    Take this book to the beach; it will open up a whole new world. Illustrated throughout with color photographs, maps, and graphics, it explores one of the planet's most dynamic environments-from tourist beaches to Arctic beaches strewn with ice chunks to steaming hot tropical shores.The World's Beachestells how beaches work, explains why they vary so much, and shows how dramatic changes can occur on them in a matter of hours. It discusses tides, waves, and wind; the patterns of dunes, washover fans, and wrack lines; and the shape of berms, bars, shell lags, cusps, ripples, and blisters. What is the world's longest beach? Why do some beaches sing when you walk on them? Why do some have dark rings on their surface and tiny holes scattered far and wide? This fascinating, comprehensive guide also considers the future of beaches, and explains how extensively people have affected them-from coastal engineering to pollution, oil spills, and rising sea levels.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94894-5
    Subjects: Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. FOREWORD BY THE DONOR, THE SANTA AGUILA FOUNDATION
    (pp. xi-xii)
    The Santa Aguila Foundation

    A beach is not just a pile of sand for us to enjoy, and we hope this book will unveil some of the mysteries of this narrow strip of nature caught between land and sea. Beaches are the most dynamic features on earth, constantly changing shape and providing vital ecological functions and a home to environments of amazing biodiversity. Understanding the importance of the beach’s role vis-à-vis the land, the nearshore, and the ocean and its biodiversity is crucial to its protection and preservation.

    Sadly, the beauty of our coastlines and the survival of their ecosystems are under threat. America...

  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. PART I: THE GLOBAL CHARACTER OF BEACHES
    • 1 A WORLD OF BEACHES
      (pp. 5-26)

      Beaches are a treasure—cherished by most, exploited by some, enjoyed by all. Beaches are places for recreation, contemplation, renewal and rejuvenation, communing with nature, and sometimes, while staring out to sea, thinking about our place in the universe. On beaches we swim, surf, fish, jog, stroll, or just lose ourselves in the wonder of where the land meets the sea. Yet for all of our interaction with beaches, few of us understand them: why they are there, how they work, why they show so much variety in form and composition, and why they can undergo dramatic changes in a...

    • 2 BEACHES OF THE WORLD
      (pp. 27-50)

      The beach is such a globally recognized feature that it hardly seems necessary to answer the question, What is a beach? We all have strong mental images of beaches lined with umbrellas, or beaches in the context of historical events, or that nearly universal, frequently happy memory of “my first trip to the beach.” It is no surprise, then, that the definition of a beach varies among observers and even among scientists and engineers.

      In the science of beaches, a biologist defines the beach by its principal natural biological function: “a habitat” for birds, turtles, shellfish, and meiofauna (microscopic organisms...

    • 3 OF WHAT ARE BEACHES MADE? SEDIMENTS
      (pp. 51-80)

      Beaches occur in what seems to be an endless variety. Some beaches are so soft that your feet sink into the sand when you walk on them, while others are hard enough that you can drive and park your car on them without fear of getting bogged down. Beach colors range from black to yellow to brown to gray to white to green and even red. While sandy beaches change shape with every tide, some beaches are made of boulders so large that they hardly ever move. A beach may go on for miles and miles as an unbroken strip...

    • 4 HOW BEACHES WORK: WAVES, CURRENTS, TIDES, AND WIND
      (pp. 81-102)

      Our bias is that a beach never stays the same. The grains of sand as well as pebbles and cobbles on a beach are moved and sorted by a combination of waves, ocean currents, tidal currents, and winds. As the grains move, the shape of the beach changes, and so the next combination of waves, currents, tides, and winds work on a beach that is slightly to significantly different in comparison to the previous one.

      Go to a beach during a storm and you will find a very different place compared to the same beach on a calm, sunny day...

    • 5 THE FORM OF THE BEACH: CRAB’S-EYE AND BIRD’S-EYE VIEWS
      (pp. 103-114)

      Even the most casual observer can’t help noticing that beaches come in many different shapes. Some are steep and have a smooth surface, while others slope gently seaward and have lots of ridges and troughs. Viewed from above, beaches have a variety of shapes, ranging from long ribbons of sand that run along the shore for miles, to gently curving beaches strung between rocky headlands. Beach shapes are often represented in terms of their cross-sectional silhouette, thebeach profile(i.e., a profile view; the way the slope of the beach varies from land to sea), and their plan view (i.e.,...

  6. PART II: HOW TO READ A BEACH
    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 115-118)

      In different climatic settings ranging from the tropics to the Arctic, natural beaches form as a result of the interaction of tides, waves, and currents with an array of coastal sediments of different compositions, grain sizes, and sorting. Add to this the effects of wind, of organisms that rework sandy beaches, and of the breathing of beaches as they fill and empty with water and air with the rise and fall of the tide. All beaches share similarities, but because every beach has been shaped by a unique combination of local processes in the last seconds, minutes, hours, days, and...

    • 6 THE BEACH SURFACE UP CLOSE: IMPRINTS OF TIDES, CURRENTS, AND WAVES
      (pp. 119-138)

      Reading a beach usually begins with looking at large landforms, such as the berm and offshore bars, and proceeds through examining intermediate-scale features, such as wrack lines and beach scarps, and then scrutinizing the small and even tiny features we see at our feet. Landforms and features seen in the topographic profile of a beach, such as large sand dunes or a narrow and steep backshore, tell the story of overall long-term conditions including sand supply, wave energy, and the impacts of engineering that have shaped the beach over many years or even decades.

      Intermediate features, such as scarped or...

    • 7 ESCAPE FROM WITHIN: AIR AND WATER IN THE BEACH
      (pp. 139-152)

      If you are a frequent beach stroller, you have at various times seen small, startlingly perfect circles or rings a half inch or more in diameter on the beach. If you looked at the sand surface beyond the edge of your beach blanket, you may have noticed numerous small holes in the sand. On some parts of the beach, you might have noticed small mounds or blisters pushing up the sand, again spaced at regular intervals. And if you have walked a long way along a beach, you almost certainly have encountered patches of sand that were so soft that...

    • 8 WHICHEVER WAY THE WIND BLOWS: REWORKING THE BEACH SURFACE
      (pp. 153-168)

      Beaches are windy places, both because they face vast stretches of open water over which wind blows from distant storms, and because of the differential heating between land and water. A summer morning’s visit to the beach might be met by a seaward-blowing breeze, but as the day wears on, the land surface heats up at a faster rate than the sea surface and the wind direction reverses. This effect is because the ocean absorbs heat energy to a greater depth than the beach and dune sand does, so the ocean warms more slowly than the land. The warm air...

    • 9 BEACH CREATURES: TRACKS, TRAILS, AND TRACES
      (pp. 169-184)

      At the end of a sunny day, a popular recreational beach can resemble a plowed field, the surface churned up by thousands of human footprints. But if we saw that beach for the first time after the crowd had left, could we tell what had roughed up the surface? Up in the wrack line there might be a concentration of cigarette butts and beverage containers that would give a few clues that humans were involved, and on some wet, hard-beach stretches, footprints may be preserved.

      It is not only humans that can churn up a beach surface, however. In addition...

    • 10 CARBONATE BEACHES: SEASHELLS AND THE STORIES THEY TELL
      (pp. 185-212)

      Beaches and seashells are as inseparable as bread and butter or bricks and mortar. Seashells always fascinate, both because of their amazing beauty and because of the wondrous role they play in the life of the sea. Some less beautiful, like the oysters, are delicacies that have sustained humans for thousands of years. Seashells are also important components of the ecosystem of beaches, and the remnants of their skeletons often make up a large part of the sand that is moved about in nature’s most dynamic environment.

      Almost all seashells are made up of calcium carbonate (CaCO₃) that has been...

    • 11 DIGGING THE BEACH: INTO THE THIRD DIMENSION
      (pp. 213-222)

      Many beachgoers observe features on the surface of the beach, but small children with pails and shovels, and geologists with bigger toys, enjoy looking deeper. To understand the inner expressions of the surface structures and to piece together the sequence of recent events that formed and shaped the beach, this third dimension must be considered. Natural exposures of the beach subsurface are not abundant; however, eroded beach scarps and the vertical cut banks of stream channels through a beach provide places to look for clues of its recent history. More commonly, those who study beaches dig shallow trenches with shovels...

  7. PART III: THE GLOBAL THREAT TO BEACHES
    • 12 BEACHES AT RISK: SEA-LEVEL RISE AND THE HUMAN RESPONSE
      (pp. 227-250)

      The single greatest threat to the future of the world’s beaches is not storms or rising sea level. It is us. The threat comes not from nature, but from humans in our attempts to control the beach. Beaches, left to their own resources, are extremely resilient. As a rule, natural beaches are nearly indestructible; indeed, it appears that beaches have discovered the fountain of youth. Whatever the level of the sea, beaches will persist. Every rule, of course, has exceptions, and in a few instances beaches can meet their demise by natural circumstances (e.g., small beaches in non–coastal plain...

    • 13 THE URBANIZED BEACH: FROM MIDDENS TO THE MAELSTROM OF DEVELOPMENT
      (pp. 251-258)

      Many modern beaches can no longer be seen in terms of the natural categories outlined in the chapters of this book; urbanization has created a new category of shoreline, sometimes beachless, sometimes characterized by a faux beach. Urbanized beaches are the product of a historical pattern, or evolution, from subsistence beaches to resorts to complete urbanization.

      People originally used beaches as places to hunt birds, fish, or launch boats (i.e., for fowling, fishing and navigation). In warm climates, people certainly cooled off along beaches, but the most common record we find of the ancient human occupation of beaches is in...

  8. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 259-272)
  9. SELECTED REFERENCES FOR FURTHER READING
    (pp. 273-278)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 279-283)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 284-284)