Last week, we looked up to the sky for our source of wonderment in the clouds. This week, it’s time to get our heads out of the clouds and plant our feet firmly in the sand on the beach, as that’s where we’re heading: the Beach.
You might think that beaches are nothing more than simple deposits of sand, where enough erosion has taken place to grind rocks into grains of sand. However, I’m sure that many of you have visited beaches that have varied greatly, ranging from beaches with various colors of sand ranging from bright white to beautiful black and even pink, or beaches with pebbles.
One of the aspects that I enjoy at beaches is that the interaction between land and water creates very interesting patterns, be it in sand or pebbles.
The development of the beach as a popular leisure resort from the mid-19th century was the first manifestation of what is now the global tourist industry. The first seaside resorts were opened in the 18th century for the aristocracy, who began to frequent the seaside as well as the then fashionable spa towns, for recreation and health.
One of the earliest such seaside resorts, was Scarborough in Yorkshire during the 1720s; it had been a fashionable spa town since a stream of acidic water was discovered running from one of the cliffs to the south of the town in the 17th century. The first rolling bathing machines were introduced by 1735.
The opening of the resort in Brighton and its reception of royal patronage from King George IV, extended the seaside as a resort for health and pleasure to the much larger London market, and the beach became a centre for upper-class pleasure and frivolity. This trend was praised and artistically elevated by the new romantic ideal of the picturesque landscape; Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon is an example of that. Later, Queen Victoria’s long-standing patronage of the Isle of Wight and Ramsgate in Kent ensured that a seaside residence was considered as a highly fashionable possession for those wealthy enough to afford more than one home.
Seaside resorts for the working class
The extension of this form of leisure to the middle and working class began with the development of the railways in the 1840s, which offered cheap and affordable fares to fast growing resort towns. In particular, the completion of a branch line to the small seaside town Blackpool from Poulton led to a sustained economic and demographic boom. A sudden influx of visitors, arriving by rail, provided the motivation for entrepreneurs to build accommodation and create new attractions, leading to more visitors and a rapid cycle of growth throughout the 1850s and 1860s.
The growth was intensified by the practice among the Lancashire cotton mill owners of closing the factories for a week every year to service and repair machinery. These became known as wakes weeks. Each town’s mills would close for a different week, allowing Blackpool to manage a steady and reliable stream of visitors over a prolonged period in the summer. A prominent feature of the resort was the promenade and the pleasure piers, where an eclectic variety of performances vied for the people’s attention. In 1863, the North Pier in Blackpool was completed, rapidly becoming a centre of attraction for elite visitors. Central Pier was completed in 1868, with a theatre and a large open-air dance floor.
Many of the popular beach resorts were equipped with bathing machines, because even the all-covering beachwear of the period was considered immodest. By the end of the century the English coastline had over 100 large resort towns, some with populations exceeding 50,000.
Beaches are the result of wave action by which waves or currents move sand or other loose sediments of which the beach is made as these particles are held in suspension. Alternatively, sand may be moved by saltation (a bouncing movement of large particles).
Beach materials come from erosion of rocks offshore, as well as from headland erosion and slumping producing deposits of scree. Some of the whitest sand in the world, along Florida’s Emerald Coast, comes from the erosion of quartz in the Appalachian Mountains.
A coral reef offshore is a significant source of sand particles. Some species of fish that feed on algae attached to coral outcrops and rocks can create substantial quantities of sand particles over their lifetime as they nibble during feeding, digesting the organic matter, and discarding the rock and coral particles which pass through their digestive tracts.
The composition of the beach depends upon the nature and quantity of sediments upstream of the beach, and the speed of flow and turbidity of water and wind.
Sediments are moved by moving water and wind according to their particle size and state of compaction. Particles tend to settle and compact in still water. Once compacted, they are more resistant to erosion. Established vegetation (especially species with complex network root systems) will resist erosion by slowing the fluid flow at the surface layer.
When affected by moving water or wind, particles that are eroded and held in suspension will increase the erosive power of the fluid that holds them by increasing the average density, viscosity and volume of the moving fluid.
The nature of sediments found on a beach tends to indicate the energy of the waves and wind in the locality. Coastlines facing very energetic wind and wave systems will tend to hold only large rocks as smaller particles will be held in suspension in the turbid water column and carried to calmer areas by longshore currents and tides. Coastlines that are protected from waves and winds will tend to allow finer sediments such as clays and mud to precipitate creating mud flats and mangrove forests.
The shape of a beach depends on whether the waves are constructive or destructive, and whether the material is sand or shingle.
Waves are constructive if the period between their wave crests is long enough for the breaking water to recede and the sediment to settle before the succeeding wave arrives and breaks. Fine sediment transported from lower down the beach profile will compact if the receding water percolates or soaks into the beach. Compacted sediment is more resistant to movement by turbulent water from succeeding waves.
Conversely, waves are destructive if the period between the wave crests is short. Sediment that remains in suspension when the following wave crest arrives will not be able to settle and compact and will be more susceptible to erosion by longshore currents and receding tides.
Constructive waves move material up the beach while destructive waves move the material down the beach. During seasons when destructive waves are prevalent, the shallows will carry an increased load of sediment and organic matter in suspension.
On sandy beaches, the turbulent backwash of destructive waves removes material forming a gently sloping beach. On pebble and shingle beaches the swash is dissipated more quickly because the large particle size allows greater percolation, thereby reducing the power of the backwash, and the beach remains steep.
Compacted fine sediments will form a smooth beach surface that resists wind and water erosion. During hot calm seasons, a crust may form on the surface of ocean beaches as the heat of the sun evaporates the water leaving the salt which crystallises around the sand particles. This crust forms an additional protective layer that resists wind erosion unless disturbed by animals, or dissolved by the advancing tide.
Cusps and horns form where incoming waves divide, depositing sand as horns and scouring out sand to form cusps. This forms the uneven face on some sand shorelines.
This image was captured with a Canon EOS 1D MkII with an EF 24-105mm f/4L lens attached. Exposure settings were at 1/50 second at f/20 with 400 ISO.