Sea stack formation and the role of abrasion on beach-mantled headlands

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Sea stacks are common and striking coastal landforms, but few details are known about how, how quickly, and under what conditions they form. We present numerical and analytical models of sea stack formation due to preferential erosion along a pre-existing headland to address these basic questions. On sediment-rich rocky coasts, as sea cliffs erode and retreat, they produce beach sediment that is distributed by alongshore sediment transport and controls future sea cliff retreat rates. Depending on their width, beaches can encourage or discourage sea cliff erosion by acting either as an abrasive tool or a protective cover that dissipates wave energy seaward of the cliff. Along the flanks of rocky headlands where pocket beaches are often curved and narrow due to wave field variability, abrasion can accelerate alongshore-directed sea cliff erosion. Eventually, abrasion-induced preferential erosion can cut a channel through a headland, separating it from the mainland to become a sea stack. Under a symmetrical wave climate (i.e. equal influence of waves approaching the coastline from the right and from the left), numerical and analytical model results suggest that sea stack formation time and plan-view size are proportional to preferential erosion intensity (caused by, for example, abrasion and/or local rock weakness from joints, faults, or fractures) and initial headland aspect ratio, and that sea stack formation is discouraged when the sediment input from sea cliff retreat is too high (i.e. sea cliffs retreat quickly or are sand-rich). When initial headland aspect ratio is too small, and the headland is 'rounded' (much wider in the alongshore direction at its base than at its seaward apex), the headland is less conducive to sea stack formation. On top of these geomorphic and morphologic controls, a highly asymmetrical wave climate decreases sea stack size and discourages stack formation through rock-sediment interactions.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Limber, PW; Murray, AB

Published Date

  • March 30, 2015

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 40 / 4

Start / End Page

  • 559 - 568

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1096-9837

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0197-9337

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1002/esp.3667

Citation Source

  • Scopus