Sunday, November 25, 2012

Beach Topography

I have long been enamored with landscape and, the greater the topographic relief, the better.  So, while I thoroughly enjoy our visits to Florida, with its rich marine and terrestrial ecosystems, I find the flat terrain less than appealing.

On the other hand, the sandy beaches of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts offer an opportunity to witness the natural processes of deposition and erosion in their most elemental form and the constant interaction of wind, water and sand provides insight into the gradual yet no less relentless development of landforms across the globe.  In areas where the sand is tightly compacted (and thus more resistant to erosion), steep-walled escarpments form, collapsing in places to mimic the rock slides along our western canyons.  In other regions, where the sand is relatively loose and easily displaced, incoming waves produce broad, flat plains, dappled by transient pools that soon fill with sand, shells and other debris, pushed in from the sea or swept across the beach.

Those of us attuned to these natural processes cannot help but notice miniature landscapes as we walk along the beach, enjoying time-lapsed cycles of formation and destruction.  Stark, resistant headlands of sand, dissected from escarpments by the pounding surf, are rounded off by subsequent waves and, eventually, erode to a flat plain, their cargo of sand deposited down the beach.  This simplistic model of landscape evolution, surely ignored by the great majority of visitors, makes a stroll on the beach even more interesting for those of us hooked on topography.