Classifying Coasts

CERF Develops a Comprehensive Classification Scheme of Coastal Geomorphological Properties

  Many different kinds of classifications have been applied to coasts in attempts to characterize dominant features in terms of physical or biological properties, modes of evolution, or geographic occurrence. Some of the earlier general classifications were broad in scope but lacked specificity while other specialized systems were narrowly focused, providing uneven coverage of taxonomic units for coastlines of the world. Due to more comprehensive study of coasts and the increasing availability of information, especially digital formats in GIS frameworks, integrated and systematic approaches to coastal classification are favored. The complex demands of today require sophisticated solutions to overlapping and interrelated problems in the littoral, as facilitated by organization of biophysical parameters into a coherent whole or universal scheme.

Dr. Charles W. Finkl, President of the Coastal Education and Research Foundation [CERF] and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Coastal Research (JCR), has created a developmental approach for a new comprehensive classification system for the coastal fringe, a swath zone 5 to 10 km wide across the shoreline, which incorporates all important parameters necessary to categorize geomorphic units that can be mapped at meaningful scales. Consideration of coastal geomorphological properties are the theme of this approximation toward a modern taxonomic system where morphostructures are the unifying links that facilitate transition from one hierarchical level to another. The proposed approach employs differentiating criteria for hard rock (automorphic) and soft rock (allomorphic) coasts which are divided by chronometric parameters related to the antiquity of littoral landforms. Other levels of primary differentia include geodynamic-climatomorphogenic process zones, relief types (morphoregions), morphogenetic relief features, and relief elements and genetically homogeneous surfaces. Morphotypes are lower level taxons that provide examples of ingressional, egressional, and complex process-forms. The proposal for a unified system requires testing in the field and mapping at myriametric scales to update subsequent approximations.

   The above photograph shows Taquarinhas Beach on the south coast of Brazil in Santa Catarina State south of Itajaí. This headland bay coast is marked by numerous granitic promontories that shelter mostly intermediate type beaches that create compositionally unique embayments where the sediment type depends on local provenance. This particular beach contains coarse siliciclastic sand (average mean grain size is 0.8 mm on the beachface) and nonbarred, steep profiles typical of reflective beaches. The granite tors (resistant core stones) were exposed by the erosion of saprolitic materials produced by tropical-subtropical weathering regimes. [Classification (Landscape, scale): Neolittoral pocket beach due to scoliomorphogenesis on a mature or subsiding Atlantic type coast.]


For more information in regard to coastal classification, please click the link below to the following article published in the Journal of Coastal Research:

Finkl, C.W., 2004. Coastal Classification: Systematic Approaches to Consider in the Development of a Comprehensive Scheme.


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