Want to create or adapt books like this? Learn more about how Pressbooks supports open publishing practices.
13.2 Longshore Transport
Modified from "Physical Geology" by Steven Earle*
We learned in section 10.3 that refraction causes waves to approach parallel to shore. However, most waves still reach the shore at a small angle, and as each one arrives, it pushes water along the shore, creating what is known as a within the surf zone (the areas where waves are breaking) (Figure 13.2.1). Longshore currents can move up to 4 km/hr, strong enough to carry people with them, as everyone knows who has been swimming in the ocean only to look up and see that they have been carried far down the beach from their towel!
Another important effect of waves reaching the shore at an angle is that when they wash up onto the beach, they do so at an angle, but when that same wave water washes back down the beach, it moves straight down the slope of the beach (Figure 13.2.2). The upward-moving water, known as the , pushes sediment particles along the beach, while the downward-moving water, the , brings them straight back. With every wave that washes up and then down the beach, particles of are moved along the beach in a zigzag pattern.
The combined effects of sediment transport within the surf zone by the longshore current and sediment movement along the beach by swash and backwash is known as , or . Longshore transport moves a tremendous amount of sediment along coasts (both oceans and large lakes) around the world, and it is responsible for creating a variety of depositional features that we will discuss in section 13.4. The net movement of sediment due to longshore transport is to the south along both coasts of the continental United States, because the storms and high winds that originally create the tend to occur at higher latitudes and move to the south.
A (often incorrectly called a “rip tide”; they are not really related to tides) is another type of current that develops in the area, and has the effect of returning water that has been pushed up to the shore by incoming waves or accumulated through , particularly converging longshore currents. Rip currents often occur where there is a channel between sandbars that makes it easier for the retreating water to escape. As shown in Figure 13.2.3, rip currents flow straight out from the shore, and because the water is directed through a narrow space, the current can be very strong. The currents lose strength quickly just outside of the surf zone, but they can be dangerous to swimmers who get caught in them and are pulled away from shore. Swimmers caught in a rip current should not try to swim directly back to shore, as it is difficult to fight the current and the swimmer can quickly tire. Instead, swim parallel to the beach for a short distance until you are outside of the rip current, and then you can easily swim to shore.
Rip currents are visible in Figure 13.2.4, a beach at Tunquen in Chile near Valparaiso. As is evident from the photo, the rips correspond with embayments in the beach profile. Three of them are indicated with arrows, but it appears that there may be several others farther along the beach.
*”Physical Geology” by Steven Earle used under a CC-BY 4.0 international license. Download this book for free at http://open.bccampus.ca
the movement of water parallel to a shoreline produced by the approach of waves at an angle to the shore (13.2)
the upward motion of a wave on a beach (typically takes place at the same angle that the waves are approaching the shore) (13.1)
the wash of wave water down the slope of a beach (13.1)
unconsolidated particles of mineral or rock that settle to the seafloor (12.1)
the movement of sediment along a shoreline resulting from a longshore current and also from the swash and backwash on a beach face. Also known as littoral drift (13.2)
the movement of sediment along a shoreline resulting from a longshore current and also from the swash and backwash on a beach face (another name for longshore transport) (13.2)
regular, long-period waves that have sorted themselves based on speed (10.2)
a strong flow of water outward from a beach (13.2)
the part of a beach from the low tide line to the depth where wave action is no longer influenced by the bottom, i.e. to where the depth exceeds the wave base (13.1)