Not counting Alaska, the mainland United States has more than 88,000 miles of tidal shoreline, much of it marked by the concave arcs of "wave-deposited sediment" that geologists define as beaches. Yet since the early nineteenth century, Americans have treated beaches as more than dynamic geological formations subject to the shifting patterns of wind, wave, and tide. Beaches have become the most cherished and coveted feature of the nation's natural geography. Although making up only 17 percent of the nation's land mass, the narrow coastal fringe is home to more Americans (153 million in 1998) than the rest of the United States combined. In the early nineteenth century, only the richest and most leisured elite had any interest in spending time at the shore; today, a quarter of the American population—and twothirds of California's—visits a beach one or more times every year. The "beach" has become the nation's universal playground and a primary symbol of what constitutes the "good life" in the United States.
In the most important sense, going to the beach specifically has meant not going to work. Beaches seemed to be a part of nature; thus, they seemed to encourage communion with elemental forces lurking beneath the veneer of civilized life, or acting outside the bounds and rules that confined ordinary life. Yet Americans have continuously worried that the pleasures of sun and surf could become dissipations that compromise individual integrity and undermine social morality. Does a beach outing refresh the vacationer to be more productive at work, or make her or him wish never to work again? Does swimwear free the body to enjoy nature's goodness, or turn women into sexual objects? Such vexed questions and ambivalent attitudes, which have been part of the larger history of work and leisure in the modern period, suggest how beaches and beachgoing in particular have paralleled important social, cultural, and economic changes of the last two centuries.
Attitudes Toward Beaches in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century America
Until the mid-eighteenth century, most Western Europeans and Euro-Americans who did not make their livings at the seaside avoided it. Instructed by local lore as well as Judeo-Christian accounts of the flood, most people fearfully beheld the ocean as the "great abyss" of disorder, incomprehensible mysteries, and ferocious sea creatures. But after 1750, Westerners began reimagining the sea and seaside as resources for revitalization. Physicians and former invalids led the way, hailing the curative powers of inhaling salty air and submerging the naked body into the icy wintertime ocean. Romantic artists and growing numbers of ordinary urban dwellers sought similar coastal therapies. If they felt confused about who they really were or believed city life had alienated them from nature, wandering the beach and contemplating the clash of the elements on the shoreline, the historian Alain Corbin has observed, was a way "to discover—or better yet, perhaps, to rediscover—who they were" (p. 164). American writers and painters searching for such self-knowledge led the way to the seashore. The poet Walt Whitman, for example, recalled haunting beaches near New York City in the 1830s, watching "the ocean perpetually, grandly, rolling in" and pondering how to make "this liquid, mystic theme" into poetry (p. 67).
Aside from artists, the earliest seaside tourists usually belonged to the northern mercantile and southern planter elite. These people not only could afford days or even months of leisure at a time; they also believed they needed to recuperate in this manner. In the 1820s and 1830s, a commercial leisure economy emerged in the Northeast to serve such desires. Regular steamboat service carried Boston's leading citizens to the rocky shoreline of Nahant, a peninsula jutting into Massachusetts Bay north of the city. Wealthy Philadelphians amused themselves on the New Jersey shore at Cape May. Newport, Rhode Island, was the era's premier seaside resort. Located near the southern tip of Aquidneck Island in Narragansett Bay, Newport had been a leading Atlantic port and manufacturing center in the 1770s, but rapidly went into decline in the postrevolutionary period. In the 1820s and 1830s, though, as the nation's growing commercial aristocracy sought places for relaxation and recreation, Newport rebounded as a stylish getaway within proximity of Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. By 1860, America's "fashionable resort for rank, fashion, and beauty" featured eleven hotels and twenty-nine boardinghouses. Yet all of these facilities and kindred amusements were positioned out of sight of the dramatic coastline. The resort population avoided the beach except during the fashionable morning bathing hours. Socializing was the preeminent occupation, which prompted Henry David Thoreau to observe that Newport's leisured set much preferred "wine" to "brine."
Newport's high life offended the modest purses and sensibilities of many middle-class Americans, but the seaside camp-meeting grounds spawned by the great religious revivals of the era did not. Wesleyan Grove on the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard, which held its first outdoor revival in 1835, was typical of such "Christian retreats." By the late 1850s, Wesleyan Grove's original communal accommodations had been replaced by hundreds of private tent residences spread over almost fifteen acres near the shore. In the late 1860s, small cottages were replacing the tents, and the Methodists consolidated their camp with the speculative shoreline development of Oak Bluffs. The two areas together blossomed into a resort offering beach recreation with a clear conscience: no gambling or drinking, but plenty of bathing, except on Sunday. For the rest of the century, other "Christian" (that is, Protestant) retreats—Ocean Grove, New Jersey; Rehoboth Beach, Delaware; Lake Bluff, north of Chicago on Lake Michigan—followed a similar pattern of accommodating "innocent" or hygienic beach recreations with Christian self-improvement.
The transformation of revival campgrounds into recreational beach resorts at mid-century prefigured what historian Cindy Aron calls "the democratization of vacationing" in the United States between 1850 and 1950. Once considered the luxury of a privileged few, vacations came to be regarded as a national necessity and entitlement, first for the growing urban population of middle-income corporate and professional workers, then, in the decades before World War II, for working-class families, too. The emergence of the vacationing American reflected important developments in the nineteenth century: first, the new medical and popular consensus that time away from work, especially in the salubrious environment of clean sea or mountain air, was essential to a man's vigor; second, the growing agreement among leading Protestant religious authorities that pleasure was not an evil in itself, especially if it served, as one minister put it, to "send us back to our daily duties invigorated in body and spirit;" third, the growth of what historian Orvar Löfgren calls a "new mode of consumption . . . based on the idea of leaving home and work in search of new experiences, pleasures, and leisure" (p. 5).
By the 1870s and 1880s modestly priced summer resorts and cottage communities were proliferating at the nation's lakefronts and mountain passes, but seashores were the preferred getaway, especially for the weary breadwinning man. "There is nothing so restful to the restless American," a businessman observed in 1896, "as the sight and sound of the unresting sea" (Lencek, p. 154). In the late century New Jersey's 100 miles of Atlantic shoreline had fifty-four seaside resort cities, foremost of which was Atlantic City, which featured 400 hotels by 1900. Sojourners to Put-in-Bay Island, Ohio, an inland shore resort in the western basin of Lake Erie, reported hotels "full to overflowing" with refugees from Detroit, Cleveland, Toledo, and other points west. Even further west, white-collar families from Portland flocked to Clatsop Beach, "the great watering place of Oregon"; those from San Francisco crossed the mountains to Santa Cruz, the "Naples of the Pacific Coast." Middle-class African Americans frequented resorts friendly to them at Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard or Highland Beach on Chesapeake Bay.
Vacations were refreshing, but they were not a waste of time; taking time off signaled middle-class respectability. Vacationers usually bathed in the morning to avoid the intense sun, and they devoted their afternoons and evenings to strolling on boardwalks, napping (the hammock became a fixture of beach cottage life in this period), dining, and pursuing commercial amusements. Victorians counseled restraint and modesty, but beach behavior and use proved difficult to regulate. While Europeans bathed at gender-segregated beaches, American women and men usually swam "happily" together, as a newspaper reported in 1885, "without reference to age [or] sex." Middle-class women donned cumbersome bathing suits of light flannel or muslin, plus caps, stockings, and even gloves; men's suits covered their upper legs and torsos. But a lively surf tossed women's and men's bodies together and destabilized self-control. Moreover, wet bathing suits revealed more than was respectable. Just being at the beach encouraged men and, especially, women to feel less restrained by convention. Like other new leisure practices at the turn of the century, beachgoing contributed to a new middle-class style of living by undermining Victorian restraints and encouraging a more heterosocial culture in which women pursued pleasure in public, sometimes with men and sometimes not.
Popularity of Beaches in the Twentieth Century
Throughout the twentieth century, Americans have continued to look to beaches as refreshing resorts where living the "simple life" enabled introspection, self-awareness, and revitalization. Yet the ways in which they used and understood beaches underwent dramatic changes in the interwar years. For one, beaches were more popular and crowded. Inexpensive mass transit systems linked urban working-class neighborhoods to nearby shorelines, like New York's Coney Island. The rapid growth of automobile ownership and construction of roadways made it easy for urban and suburban working people to make a day's excursion or longer to the shoreline. The Dixie Highway, completed in 1927, snaked from Chicago and the Great Lakes region to Miami, the new Mecca for wintertime "snowbirds." By the end of the 1930s, too, most full-time American workers received week-long paid summer vacations. Persons of limited means not only could afford, but also desired extended stays at Atlantic City's inexpensive hotels, or a week at oceanside campgrounds, where they enjoyed the same views, if not accommodations, as rich folks. As many as 10,000 vacationed each summer at Tent City on Coronado Beach near San Diego, where $4.50 rented a furnished canvas tent for a week next door to the grand Hotel del Coronado, a favored resort for celebrities.
White Americans also went to the beach to frolic in the sun. Victorians had prized fair skin, which not only marked a person's inner virtue but also reinforced the racial and class boundaries between white and non-white and non-manual and manual laborers. But in the 1920s Americans, who were still concerned that urban life weakened them, became sun worshipers. A tan suggested the physical power and athleticism valued in men and, increasingly, in women. Many whites also coveted a tan because of the stereotype that dark-skinned races possessed a savage and sexual vigor. At Cape May in 1925, an African American newspaper noted that black people were confined to an undesirable corner of the beach, but white "life-guards, burnt so dark that they were eligible for the jim-crow car, were the envy, particularly of the [white] women." Lifeguards aside, a suntan broadcast the bearer's position of privilege, rather than lack of it; she or he had the leisure to sunbathe.
The suntan craze in the 1920s suggested how the beach had become a setting for staging and celebrating the well-groomed body. In the 1910s, the Portland (Oregon) Knitting Company introduced the affordable Jantzen line of swimsuits for women. Made of colorful form-fitting jersey knit, Jantzen suits symbolized the "new woman" of the 1920s who loved "to dive into clear, cool water and feel every muscle active—stroke after stroke as [she swam]!" Meanwhile, ads for the muscleman Charles Atlas promised weakling men that beach bullies would never kick sand in their faces again—if they purchased his fitness program. Glistening in leopard-skin briefs, Atlas also modeled the bare-chested look that American men would adopt for the beach by the end of the 1930s.
After 1945, getting away to the beach became an American pastime, and the laid-back and sun-filled beach "lifestyle" a well-advertised expression of postwar consumerism, although the nation's rapidly growing population of affluent suburbanites were no longer trying to escape the frenzy of city life. America's new premier beach escape was Hawaii. A year after the U.S. Congress made the islands an American territory in 1900, the first modern resort opened in Honolulu. Hawaii remained an exclusive destination for the rich and famous until World War II brought working- and middle-class sailors and GIs to the bases there. Many would return in the mid-1950s once affordable jet travel moved the beaches of Waikiki within reach of the mainland middle-class masses. A one-time family vacation or honeymoon seemed the height of luxury, glamour, and the exotic, which was why, through the 1960s and 1970s, a week in Hawaii was the luxurious grand prize on TV game shows like Let's Make a Deal.
An alternative, but related, hedonistic counterculture of sun, sea, and heterosexual sensuality developed in California in the postwar decades. Southern California surfers were an obscure subcultural tribe until the early 1960s, when beach movies and "surfing music" popularized the "Endless Summer" lifestyle: baggie shorts, huarache sandals, bushy blond hair, and, as the duo Jan and Dean explained in their song "Surf City," "two girls for every boy." Later, hippies, seeking to live in harmony with untouched nature, set up camps on the Baja Peninsula south of the Mexican border. Movie stars and celebrities settled the magnificent Malibu beach as their private preserve. The teenage surfing set's bonfire parties, soirees at Malibu, and makeshift settlements at Baja consciously rejected the packaged paradise of volcano tours and luaus that drew middle-class adults to Hawaii, but all of these uses of the beach exploited fictions about communing with nature, retreating from civilization, and playing instead of working at the seaside—motivations that had drawn Americans to beaches since the early nineteenth century.
Since the early 1980s, new concerns that the beach may be bad for health have arisen. Warnings of ozone layer depletion heightened fears that cancer-causing ultraviolet rays were shooting down unfiltered onto the bodies of sunbathers. At the end of the decade, New York and New Jersey beaches closed when used needles and other medical waste washed onshore. Outbreaks of fecal coliform bacteria, usually attributable to sewage runoff in areas of dense residential development, continually shut down freshwater and saltwater beaches to swimmers. Residential developments on the Gulf of Mexico from Florida through Texas—one of the fastest-growing regions in the country—have devastated coastal fishing and shellfish populations. Hurricanes and the severe beach erosion attributed to global warming make buying beach property a risky venture. Yet even if the beach seems more and more a dimension of modern industrial, urban, and consumer culture than a haven from it, Americans still go there to discover or announce who they are, although the journeys often follow a multiplicity of routes reflecting interest group preferences. The very wealthy fight for property in expensive coastal areas in Santa Barbara, California. Gay men claim Provincetown in Massachusetts and Fire Island in New York as their particular playgrounds. Retirees bake in the sunshine of Florida's "Gold Coast," from Palm Beach to Miami Beach, while each spring, more than 100,000 students from historically black colleges descend on Daytona Beach, 250 miles to the north, for Black College Reunion. Much as a coastal vacation announced that Americans had "arrived" in the late nineteenth century, a day or longer at the shore remains an important way in which Americans define themselves through the pleasures and liberties the beach affords.
Aron, Cindy S. Working at Play: A History of Vacations in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Corbin, Alain. The Lure of the Sea: The Discovery of the Seaside in the Western World. Translated by Jocelyn Phelps. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.
Culliton, Thomas J. "Population: Distribution, Density and Growth." National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) State of the Coast Report. Silver Spring, Md.: NOAA, February 1998.
Lencek, Lena, and Gideon Bosker. The Beach: The History of Paradise on Earth. New York: Viking, 1998.
Löfgren, Orvar. On Holiday: A History of Vacationing. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.
Nasaw, David. Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements. New York: Basic Books, 1993.
Peiss, Kathy. Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987.
——. Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture. New York: Metropolitan Books, 1998.
Whitman, Walt. Specimen Days. Boston: David R. Godine, 1971.
Woodroffe, Colin D. Coasts: Form, Process and Evolution. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
A beach is a dynamic environment located where land, sea, and air meet. It may be defined as a zone of unconsolidated sediment (i.e., loose materials) deposited by water, wind, or glaciers along the coast, between the low tideline and the next important landward change in topography or composition. This change can be a natural feature such as dunes or a cliff, or a humanmade structure such as a seawall.
Although most beaches are composed of quartz sand, the fragments may be as large as boulders, or composed of some other material such as carbonate skeletal or shell fragments. Sources of beach material include sediment carried by rivers or eroded from cliffs or the seafloor, or biological material such as coral.
Parts of a Beach
A beach is comprised of two major parts: the foreshore and the backshore. The foreshore, also called the beach face, is the intertidal seaward portion. The backshore, or berm, is above the high tideline and is covered by water only during storms or unusually high spring tides. The foreshore's slope is steeper, whereas the backshore is nearly flat.
There are several zones seaward of the foreshore. Farthest out is the breaker zone, where waves coming in from the ocean become steeper and higher and begin to break. Nearer to shore is the surf zone, where waves actually break, and longshore transport occurs.
The swash zone is considered part of the foreshore, and is the area exposed to wave uprush and backwash (the forward and backward movements of waves). Beach material is constantly moved in the swash zone, usually upward at an angle in the process called beachdrift . The surf zone and swash zone together make up the zone of littoral transport .
The momentum of the waves, which break at an angle to the shoreline rather than running into it head-on, creates a flow parallel to the beach, known as the longshore or littoral current. This current picks up and carries sediment along with it, in the process called longshore transport or drift. The sediment is later deposited either on the beach, or as longshore bars of sediment just above the high tideline that are built up parallel to the coast and may eventually become barrier islands.
In contrast to longshore currents, rip currents or rip tides move sediment offshore. These currents form perpendicular to the shoreline when water brought to shore by breakers returns seaward via depressions in the seafloor or through breaks in offshore bars. Rip currents are narrow and localized and can move with speed and force. They are the source of undertow, about which swimmers are often warned.
Barrier Island Migration.
A barrier island is an enlarged longshore bar that may be up to 30 meters (98 feet) high and contain dunes and vegetation.* It is slightly offset seaward from the mainland, parallel to the shore due to its formation by longshore transport. The end of the island that faces into the longshore current is constantly being eroded. The sediment, though, is picked up by the current and deposited at the other end of the island. Thus, barrier islands migrate continually in the direction of longshore transport.
Storms and Beaches
Beaches can have different shapes according to the season. Waves tend to be long and low in the summer and wash sand onto the beach, increasing the size of the backshore. During the winter, waves become higher and more closely spaced. They possess greater energy that erodes the backshore and carries sand away temporarily. Winter storms magnify the effect, as do tropical storms and hurricanes in the summer.
The primary danger to a beach during a hurricane is the storm surge, which occurs when the low atmospheric pressure associated with a hurricane creates a "hill" of water in the ocean. The mounded water moves with the hurricane toward land. Upon approaching shallow water, the part of the mound over which wind is blowing produces a surge of elevated water pushed by the wind that inundates the beach.
The intense energy from a storm surge can badly erode a beach. Storm surges also can be very destructive to any structures in low-lying areas. Even worse are tidal floods, which are storm surges that form at high tide.
Another danger to beaches—particularly in the Pacific Ocean—is the tsunami, a seismic sea wave created by an earthquake that occurs on the ocean floor. These rare occurrences are commonly but incorrectly referred to as "tidal waves." Ocean water is displaced during the violent movements of major earthquakes and may move at speeds of up to 800 kilometers per hour (nearly 500 miles per hour). As the wave approaches the shore, it slows to less than 60 kilometers per hour (about 37 miles per hour), but increases in height to more than 15 meters (49 feet), causing extreme beach destruction and occasionally causing human deaths.
Barrier islands and all beaches are highly fluid and nonpermanent in terms of location. They move all the time. Shorelines are the most dynamic, most changeable real estate in the world. However, many humans choose to live close to or even on beaches. They build homes and businesses on unstable ground.
Migration and erosion of beaches is a natural, expected process that would not ordinarily cause any problems except for these human structures and human presence. Because people desire to continue living in this hazardous area, a variety of measures have been designed to prevent or minimize beach erosion in order to protect such property.
Longshore processes, rather than seasonal onshore and offshore sediment movement, are the primary problems associated with living and working on beaches. Therefore, humans often employ so-called "hard structures" intended to improve navigation and reduce longshore beach erosion.
One type of structure for erosion control is the groin. Groins are walls placed perpendicular to the shoreline for the purpose of catching sediment to build up a beach. They often are constructed in groups, with the intention that each will trap some of the material being transported by the longshore current. However, while deposition may occur in the updrift direction, even more erosion will occur in the downdrift direction.
Like groins, jetties are placed at a right angle (perpendicular) to shore, but at harbor or inlet mouths in pairs. Their purpose is to prevent the mouths from filling up with sediment or eroding away due to waves and currents. This helps to stabilize channels, but jetties block the longshore transport of sediment, causing updrift beaches to widen, and downdrift beaches to erode. Eventually deposition at jetties may fill the channel anyway, and dredging or scooping out the material is only a temporary solution.
Breakwaters are walls constructed at some distance from and parallel to the coastline in an effort to break waves and reduce the effects of their force on the beach. Because the waves are not reaching the shore, the longshore current is halted and material accumulates, widening the beach. Dredging is sometimes necessary when too much sediment piles up behind a breakwater at the mouth of a harbor, and as with groins and jetties, erosion often takes place downdrift of the structure.
Seawalls are breakwaters constructed up against and parallel to the shore, again as a way to break the force of waves. While seawalls can protect the backshore, they, as well as breakwaters, are subject to failure due to scour, or undercutting by waves.
Drawbacks of Structures.
Although all hard structures have relatively modest maintenance costs under optimum conditions, they are complex and expensive to build, and they rarely function as intended. They interfere with the natural, active littoral transport system and more often than not cause unintended, undesirable erosion and deposition. Hard structures protect the property of only a few people at the expense of many, for such projects are normally funded at least partially with tax money. Costs and concerns must be factored in before building begins.
Aside from structures such as groins, jetties, and seawalls, alternate methods of dealing with erosion can be employed. In a method known as beach nourishment or replenishment, sediment is dredged from offshore or brought in from another location and placed on a beach reduced by erosion. The additional measures of burying dead trees within dunes or planting other vegetation to hold sand in place help in constructing a positive beach budget; that is, so more material is gained or held in place rather than eroded and carried away. This helps to provide protection against erosion and has the added benefit of creating a larger recreational beach.
Certainly beach nourishment is aesthetically preferable to inefficient and potentially harmful engineered structures. However, it can cost millions of dollars to replenish a beach, usually with taxpayers footing the bill. Because beaches are going to move regardless of human intervention, beach nourishment is a temporary solution, and its cost and frequency must be weighed.
The most permanent and best solution to minimize the dangers of beach erosion is to move existing structures away from the shoreline. This has been done in the past in the case of irreplaceable historic buildings such as lighthouses. The cost, however, is prohibitive to many owners, and special skills, equipment, and organization are needed.
Beaches are attractive for their commercial and recreational value, so it is not probable humans will ever stop living close to the ocean. They will have to find ways to live with the natural system and deal with its hazards in a manner that will not irreparably damage it.
see also Coastal Ocean; Coastal Waters Management; Human Health and the Ocean; Pollution of the Ocean by Sewage; Sea Level; Tides; Tsunamis; Waves; Weather and the Ocean.
Christina E. Bernal
Carter, R. W. G. Coastal Environments: An Introduction to the Physical, Ecological, and Cultural Systems of Coastlines. New York: Academic Press, 1988.
Davis, Richard A., Jr. Oceanography: An Introduction to the Marine Environment, 2nd ed. Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown Publishers, 1991.
Gross, M. Grant. Oceanography: A View of the Earth, 3rd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1982.
Keller, Edward A. Environmental Geology, 6th ed. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.
Lerman, Abraham, ed. Lakes: Chemistry, Geology, Physics. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1978.
Levin, Harold L. Contemporary Physical Geology, 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders College Publishing, 1990.
Moore, J. Robert, ed. Oceanography: Readings from Scientific American. San Francisco, CA: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1971.
Thurman, Harold V. Introductory Oceanography, 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Relocation Article and Images. U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service. <http://www.nps.gov/caha/lrp.htm>.
LAKE VERSUS OCEAN BEACHES
Ocean coasts receive simultaneous energy and freshwater-sediment input from multiple sources, so no one factor influences changes to any great extent. Yet lakes may have no more than one input source. Lakes are also more highly responsive to any energy input change, which is made more difficult by the smaller distance wind blows across open water, and the need to balance the energy over a much smaller area.
Lake beaches tend to be dominated by unstable waves that keep finer-grained particles in constant suspension. In addition, wind stress may alter the water level in a lake by causing the water surface to "pile up" at the downwind end of the lake, a phenomenon called a seiche.
LIGHTHOUSE ON THE MOVE
Following the National Park Service's 1989 decision to move the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, controversy continued. Some groups thought that the lighthouse must be moved to prevent it from being enveloped by the Atlantic Ocean. Other groups felt that any relocation would destroy the lighthouse's structure and its historical significance, consequently reducing tourism that the famous structure generates. An exhaustive study by the National Research Council (a part of the National Academy of Sciences) concluded that the lighthouse could be moved safely. Even with that decision, various injunctions were generated to stop the move, which ultimately was completed in 2000.
* See "Coastal Ocean" for a photograph of a newly formed barrier island.
beach, a gently sloping zone where deposits of unconsolidated sediments are subject to wave action at the shore of an ocean or lake. Most of the sediment making up a beach is supplied by rivers or by the erosion of highlands adjacent to the coast.
Beaches extend from a low waterline landward to a definite change in material or physiographic form, such as the presence of a cliff or dune complex marking a clear demarcation of the edge of a coast. The surf zone is the area between the landward limit of the waves and where the farthest seaward wave breaks. The foreshore, the active portion of the beach, is a seaward-sloping surface extending from the low tide limit of the beach to the crest of a ridge, called the berm, formed by storm waves. Water motion landward and seaward across the foreshore is called swash and backwash, respectively. The foreshore's slope angle is related to the size of the beach material and the vigor of the waves. The backshore extends landward from the berm as a broad terrace or gently landward-sloping surface, often broken by one or more beach ridges. Seaward of the surf zone is the offshore zone, which commonly contains a trough and an offshore bar where the waves begin to break before reforming and dispensing their energy on the beach. Along low sandy coasts, such as the Eastern coast of the United States, a long, narrow beach, called a barrier beach, is commonly separated from the coast by a narrow lagoon. Where a beach extends from land and terminates in open water it is called a spit or a hook.
Beaches undergo a cyclical migration of sand between the beach and the offshore zone caused by seasonal changes in the supply of sedimentary material and by the changes in intensity and direction of the approaching waves. The action of tides causes daily cycles of cut and fill. Waves approaching the shore obliquely move the sediment along the beach in a zigzag pattern called longshore transport. Since beaches are mobile deposits, they owe their existence to a constant replenishment of sand. In many coastal areas a deficiency in the supply of sand from human intervention or the natural changes in the coastal environment results in serious erosion problems. Artificial replenishment by pumping sand onto the beach from offshore or halting the moving sand from longshore drift by building breakwaters are two solutions to erosional problems.
See W. Bascom, Waves and Beaches: The Dynamics of the Ocean Surface, (1980).
beach / bēch/ • n. a pebbly or sandy shore, esp. by the ocean between high- and low-water marks. • v. [tr.] run or haul up (a boat or ship) onto a beach: at the water's edge a rowboat was beached [intr.] crews would not beach for fear of damaging craft. ∎ [often as adj.] (beached) cause (a whale or similar animal) to become stranded out of the water. ∎ [intr.] (of a whale or similar animal) become stranded out of the water. ∎ (of an angler) land (a fish) on a beach. ∎ fig. cause (someone) to suffer a loss: competitive procurement seems to have beached several companies.
Beaches ★★★½ 1988 (PG-13)
Based on the novel by Iris Rainer Dart about two girls whose friendship survived the test of time. The friendship is renewed once more when one of the now middleaged women learns that she is dying slowly of a fatal disease. 123m/C VHS, DVD . Bette Midler, Barbara Hershey, John Heard, Spalding Gray, Lainie Kazan, James Read, Mayim Bialik; D: Garry Marshall; W: Mary Agnes Donoghue; C: Dante Spinotti; M: Georges Delerue.