1 Introduction to Coastal Environments and Global Change

Gerd Masselink1 and Roland Gehrels2

1School of Marine Science and Engineering, Plymouth University, Plymouth, UK

2Environment Department, University of York, York, UK

1.1 Setting the scene

1.1.1 What is the coastal zone?

At the outset of this book, it is important to articulate clearly what we mean by ‘coast’, because the term means different things to different people. For most holidaymakers, the coast is synonymous with the beach. For birdwatchers, the coast generally refers to the intertidal zone; while for cartographers, the coast is simply a line on the map separating the land from the sea. Coastal scientists and managers tend to take a broader view.

According to our perspective, the coast represents that region of the Earth’s surface that has been affected by coastal processes, i.e. waves and tides, during the Quaternary geological period (the last 2.6 M years). The coastal zone thus defined includes the coastal plain, the contemporary estuarine, dune and beach area, the shoreface (the underwater part of the beach), and part of the continental shelf and, in areas of isostatic or tectonic uplift, fossil raised shorelines (Fig. 1.1). At a first glance, it seems rather arbitrary and perhaps odd to take such a long-term view of the timescale involved with coastal processes and geomorphology. However, as we will see later (Chapter 2), the Quaternary was a period characterized by significant changes in sea level. In ...

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