Coastal Erosion

By Emmanuel Mputela

Coastal erosion is normally the wearing away of land or the removal of beach or seaside or dune sediments by wave action, tidal currents, wave currents, or drainage (see also beach evolution). Waves, generated by storms, wind, or fast moving motor craft, cause coastal erosion, which may take the form of long-term losses of sediment and rocks, or merely the temporary redistribution of coastal sediments; erosion in one location may result in accretion nearby. The study of erosion and sediment redistribution is called ‘coastal morphodynamics’. It may be caused by hydraulic action, abrasion, impact and corrosion.

On non-rocky coasts, coastal erosion results in dramatic (or non dramatic)rock formations in areas where the coastline contains rock layers or fracture zones with varying resistance to erosion. Softer areas become eroded much faster than harder ones, which typically result in landforms such as tunnels, bridges, columns, and pillars.
An example of coastline erosion is in north Wales where over years of the sea beating at the cliffs the houses on top have begun collapsing into the sea. With some of them you can even see inside as the entire backs of some of the houses have come off and have been launched over the cliff top that has been torn through by the ferocious sea.

Dunwich, the capital of the English medieval wool trade, disappeared over the period of a few centuries due to redistribution of sediment by waves. Human interference can also increase coastal erosion: Hall sands in Devon, England, was a coastal village that washed away overnight, an event possibly exacerbated by dredging of shingle in the bay in front of it.

The California coast, which has soft cliffs of sedimentary rock and is heavily populated, regularly has incidents of housing damage as cliffs erode. Damage in Pacifica is shown at left. Devil’s Slide, Santa Barbara and Malibu are regularly affected.

The Holderness coastline on the east coast of England, just north of the Humber Estuary, is the fastest eroding coastline in Europe due to its soft clay cliffs and powerful waves. Groynes and other artificial measures to keep it under control has only accelerated the process further down the coast, because longshore drift starves the beaches of sand, leaving them more exposed.

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