What is a Beach? - Definition, Formation & Characteristics

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  • 0:01 What Are Beaches?
  • 0:28 Types of Beaches
  • 2:11 How Do Beaches Form?
  • 3:13 Beaches & Ecology
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

This lesson is about beaches. Although beaches are pretty common, there's a lot of complex science behind their formation. We'll talk about the characteristics of beaches and how geological processes form them in this video.

What Are Beaches?

Who doesn't love the beach? The sun, sand, and waves are all a classic part of summer. Even though most of us are familiar with the beach, there's some really interesting science behind this summer treat that many may not know about. Technically, a beach is a narrow, usually gently sloping strip of land that borders a body of water, such as a lake or ocean.

Types of Beaches

All beaches border a body of water, but beaches can have many different characteristics depending on where they are in the world. Some beaches are in tropical locations near the equator. These tropical beaches have lush vegetation, such as mangroves and palm trees that grow in moist, nutrient-rich soil and sand, as can be seen on the tropical beaches of Costa Rica.

Mangroves form along the edges of tropical beaches.

Although they may not be our first image, beaches also exist in Northern, freezing climates. These frozen beaches are made primarily of rock, with icy waves and limited vegetation. Beaches in the arctic may be frozen all year round.

Beaches in Northern Scotland have very cold temperatures.
frozen beach

There are also rocky beaches, where the coast is covered with pebbles or rocks not yet fully eroded, such as those found in Killbear Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada.

A rocky beach at Killbear Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada
rocky beach

Finally, we have our classic sandy beach. Sandy beaches are composed of particles coming from eroded coral reefs in the ocean, sediment from the sea floor, and/or eroded rocks from nearby cliffs. Erosion is a process in which water wears away at rock, creating millions of fine particles, such as sand. Beach sand can be different colors depending on what type of rock formed the sand. Most beaches are white or tan, but some exotic beaches can have black or even pink sand. White or tan beaches are usually composed of crushed coral or seashells. Black beaches may come from erosion of volcanic soil, such as in Hawaii.

Black sand beaches form in Hawaii from volcanic rock.
black sand beach

How Do Beaches Form?

Beaches form through erosion of rock or coral reefs near the edge of the ocean. Rocks are worn away slowly over millions of years into tiny particles, like sand or pebbles. The particles that make up beaches may travel from many miles away in the ocean to reach the beach. Water waves carry the particles and deposit them on the shore. Tides, or water moving toward the shore, and waves also create the shape of the beach. Waves may bring particles in, creating a gradual slope, or they may take sediments away and back into the ocean. As such, beaches are constantly changing shape, depending on the tides, waves and weather. Another factor in beach changes is coastal erosion, a natural process in which the shoreline is eroded away by wind, water or other weather patterns. The water wears away at the shore, cutting out the land above the beach.

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