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Nature. 2001 Nov 15;414(6861):296-300.

Formation of coastline features by large-scale instabilities induced by high-angle waves.

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  • 1Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences/Center for Nonlinear and Complex Systems, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708-0227, USA.


Along shore sediment transport that is driven by waves is generally assumed to smooth a coastline. This assumption is valid for small angles between the wave crest lines and the shore, as has been demonstrated in shoreline models. But when the angle between the waves and the shoreline is sufficiently large, small perturbations to a straight shoreline will grow. Here we use a numerical model to investigate the implications of this instability mechanism for large-scale morphology over long timescales. Our simulations show growth of coastline perturbations that interact with each other to produce large-scale features that resemble various kinds of natural landforms, including the capes and cuspate forelands observed along the Carolina coast of southeastern North America. Wind and wave data from this area support our hypothesis that such an instability mechanism could be responsible for the formation of shoreline features at spatial scales up to hundreds of kilometres and temporal scales up to millennia.

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