You are on page 1of 2


Beach Terminology
The beach can be defined as the accumulation of unconsolidated sediment (sand, gravel, and/or
cobbles) extending from some upland location, such as a sea cliff or sand dune or vegetation line, to the
water line and extending out below the water to a depth where the sediment is not moved by wave
The beach is commonly synonymous with the term "littoral" referring to this same area where waves
can move sand (Komar 1998).
The offshore limit of the littoral zone can be very deep during large storms but is often just assumed to
be a depth of 20 to 60 feet depending on the wave climate.
Terminology used to describe the processes of waves and currents in the nearshore is shown in Figure
The nearshore zone extends from the upper limit of wave runup on the beach to just beyond where the
waves are breaking.
The breaker zone or line is the portion of the nearshore region in which waves arriving from offshore
become unstable and break (see Chapter 4).
The swash zone is the portion where the beach face is alternately covered by the run-up of the wave
swash and then exposed by the backwash.
The surf zone is the portion of the nearshore between the breaker line and swash zone. The surf zone
can have bore-like, breaking or broken waves propagating across it.
The field of "surf zone dynamics" is an active area of research that focuses on the hydrodynamic
motions of waves and currents as well as the sediment response to those motions in the surf zone.

Figure 5.6. Terminology used to describe processes of waves and currents in the surf zone
(Komar 1998)

The shape of a beach profile, or transect or cross-section, has some typical features. The terminology
used to describe the beach profile is shown in Figure 5.7.
A longshore bar, or sand bar, is an underwater ridge of sand running roughly parallel to the shore.
Sand bars can be exposed at low tide in areas with large tide ranges. Figure 5.8 shows a sand bar
exposed at low tide at a location along the South Carolina coast that has a tide range of about 7 feet.
Because of the beach slope, the intertidal area here is several hundred feet wide.
A longshore trough is a depression inside of a sand bar.
The beach face is the area of the swash zone.
The beach berm is the nearly horizontal portion of the beach formed by the deposition of sediments by
waves. Some beaches have more than one berm at slightly different levels separated by a scarp.
A scarp is a nearly vertical cut into the berm portion of the beach profile by wave erosion. Scarps are
usually found at the top of the beach face when erosion is occurring.
A scarp along a southern California beach is shown in Figure 5.9. Waves were actively eroding the
berm at the time the photograph was taken.

Figure 5.7. Terminology used to describe the beach profile

Figure 5.8. Sand bar and trough exposed at low tide