Characteristics of Shorelines & Beaches

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Shorelines and beaches are places where land meets a body of water, such as a lake or ocean. Learn the characteristics of a shoreline and understand the differences between headlands, bays, beaches, longshore drifts, and sandbars. Updated: 09/26/2021


The shoreline is the line along the edge of the ocean where land meets the water. It is a dynamic place that is always changing due to forces acting upon it from waves, currents and winds. These forces erode rocky coastal structures and deposit sand and sediment in characteristic patterns, making shorelines a fun place to explore for young and old alike. In this lesson, you will learn about the different features found along shorelines, and how they are molded and formed by these forces.

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  • 0:08 Shoreline
  • 0:39 Headlands & Bays
  • 1:36 Beaches
  • 2:53 Longshore Drift and Sandbars
  • 4:39 Lesson Summary
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Headlands and Bays

Many shorelines are irregularly shaped with frequent outcroppings of rock separated by carved inlets of water. A headland is a narrow strip of land that projects out into a body of water. These outcroppings are often rocky, and because they project out into the ocean, they are subjected to the constant pounding of waves. Waves cut into the headlands leaving behind caves, notches, and cliffs.

If you ever watched a cliff diver leap into the ocean or a pirate movie where the treasure was stashed in a cave along the ocean, then you were most likely looking at a headland that had been carved and shaped by ocean waves.

The eroded material from the headlands is carried into bays, which are recessed bodies of water along the shoreline. Because waves have lost a lot of their energy by the time they enter bays, sand, and sediment is allowed to settle in these areas.


This can create a beach, which is an area at the edge of the shoreline that is covered with sand or pebbles. Beaches are the areas where most people spend their time when they vacation at the shore. These are the areas where you can plant your beach umbrella in the sand and build sandcastles, but beaches themselves have some characteristic features.

The foreshore is the area of the beach that lies between the low and high tide marks. It rises out of the water and abuts up against the next feature known as the beach berm, which is the area of the beach mostly above water that is formed by different levels of wave activity. On a broad beach there may be different levels of beach berms, each created by a different wave condition. A beach berm flattens out and achieves a somewhat horizontal or backward sloped position as it projects toward the back area of the beach.

Some beaches may also contain sand dunes farther inland. Sand dunes are mounds of sand formed by the wind. Newly formed sand dunes are constantly molded and altered by the wind, but older and more established sand dunes are stabilized due to vegetation that grows on them and holds the sand in place. Sand dunes can protect inland areas from the harsh ocean conditions.

Longshore Drift and Sandbars

How sand and sediment is deposited on a beach is in large part due to the longshore drift, which is the process by which sand and sediment is transported along the coast. The longshore drift is influenced by the angle of the waves hitting the shore and currents along the shore. It can carry large amounts of sediment along the length of the shoreline and create offshore sandbars. For example, a spit is an elongated sandbar that extends from the coast into the mouth of an adjacent bay. It gets its shape thanks to deposits of sand carried by the longshore drift.

If sand settles between two land masses, it may form a tombolo, which is another shoreline feature that can result due to the movement of sand and is defined as a mound of sand that joins an island to the mainland. If you have ever walked out to an island from the mainland, you were walking on a tombolo.

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