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Landforms Created by Waves

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  • 0:02 What Are Coastal Landforms?
  • 0:40 Types of Coastal Landforms
  • 2:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After completing this lesson, you will be able to list coastal landforms and describe how waves create them. A short quiz to test your knowledge follows the lesson.

What Are Coastal Landforms?

A landform is any natural feature of the Earth's surface. They include mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes and coasts; anything that isn't created or caused by man. This lesson focuses on landforms created by waves, or in other words, coastal landforms. Waves are powerful, and they can do a lot to the land that they crash into. There are many specific types of coastal landforms, including stacks, stumps, caves, arches, bays, coves, beaches and cliffs. So, let's go through them and talk about exactly how waves shape our coasts.

Types of Coastal Landforms

Cliffs are vertical or near-vertical walls of rock along a coast. The angles of the walls can vary, but they all transform into cliffs the same way. Cliffs start to form when waves begin crashing into the bottom of what will become the cliff. They cause erosion there and begin cutting away a hole or notch. Water takes the weathered rock away with it and deposits it elsewhere. This process is made faster by the presence of tiny bits of rock and sediment in the water itself, which are launched at the cliff. The upper part of the rock wall is also worn away from chemical processes, like acid rain, and physical processes, like water freezing in cracks, which causes them to open more. The upper rock becomes weaker and eventually collapses, forming a cliff.

Caves, arches, stacks and stumps are all formed as part of the same basic process. It starts with waves hitting vertical faults, or lines of weakness in rock, along the coast. The water erodes these faults, making the cracks larger and larger. Eventually, the erosion causes caves to form in these areas. If the caves are on an outcrop from the coast, the water can erode all the way through, forming an arch. The process continues until the arch becomes so small and weak that it collapses, creating a stack, or a vertical column of rock. Finally, these stacks can weather away, leaving a stump.

Coves are created where there is stronger rock along the coast and weaker rock further inland. If the waves are able to break through a fault in the stronger rock, they can suddenly have access to all the weaker rock. The waves wear away the weaker rock behind the stronger rock, forming a circular cove. So, for this to happen, bands of different types of rock have to be running parallel to the coast, or at 90 degrees to the direction the waves are moving.

But what if the bands of rock types are running at 90 degrees to the coast, in the same direction the waves are moving? In that case, you get a series of bays and headlands. The softer rock is worn away to create bays with sandy beaches. The tougher rock is worn away less, creating headlands.

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