A beach is a geological landform along the shoreline of a body of water. It usually consists of loose particles which are often composed of rock, such as sand, gravel, shingle, pebbles, or cobble. The particles of which the beach is composed can sometimes instead have biological origins, such as shell fragments or coralline algae fragments.
Beaches often occur along coastal areas, where wave or current action deposits and reworks sediments.
Although the seashore is most commonly associated with the word "beach", beaches are not only found by the ocean: beaches also occur at the margin of the land along lakes and rivers where sediments are reworked or deposited.
* small systems in which the rock material moves onshore,
offshore, or alongshore by the forces of waves and currents; or
* geological units of considerable size.
The former are described in detail below; the larger geological units are discussed elsewhere under bars.
There are several conspicuous parts to a beach, all of which relate to the processes that form and shape it. The part mostly above water (depending upon tide), and more or less actively influenced by the waves at some point in the tide, is termed the beach berm. The berm is the deposit of material comprising the active shoreline. The berm has a crest (top) and a face — the latter being the slope leading down towards the water from the crest. At the very bottom of the face, there may be a trough, and further seaward one or more longshore bars: slightly raised, underwater embankments formed where the waves first start to break.
The sand deposit may extend well inland from the berm crest, where there may be evidence of one or more older crests (the storm beach) resulting from very large storm waves and beyond the influence of the normal waves. At some point the influence of the waves (even storm waves) on the material comprising the beach stops, and if the particles are small enough (sand size or smaller), winds shape the feature. Where wind is the force distributing the grains inland, the deposit behind the beach becomes a dune.
These geomorphic features compose what is called the beach profile. The beach profile changes seasonally due to the change in wave energy experienced during summer and winter months. The beach profile is higher during the summer due to the gentle wave action during this season. The lower energy waves deposit sediment on the beach berm and dune, adding to the beach profile. Conversely, the beach profile is lower in the winter due to the increased wave energy associated with storms. Higher energy waves erode sediment from the beach berm and dune, and deposit it off shore, forming longshore bars. The removal of sediment from the beach berm and dune decreases the beach profile.
The line between beach and dune is difficult to define in the field. Over any significant period of time, sand is always being exchanged between them. The drift line (the high point of material deposited by waves) is one potential demarcation. This would be the point at which significant wind movement of sand could occur, since the normal waves do not wet the sand beyond this area. However, the drift line is likely to move inland under assault by storm waves.
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