Patterns in the sand: From forcing templates to self-organization

Journal Article (Journal Article)

The nearshore region exhibits many striking morphological patterns with a variety of spatial and temporal scales. The formation of these rhythmic features has been initially ascribed, depending on the pattern in question, to spatial structures in the flow or geological constrains. These forcing templates have been hypothesized to provide the spatial structure that becomes imprinted on the shoreline or seabed morphology. More recently, new explanations for rhythmic patterns have involved interactions between fluid flow and sediment transport that create morphological feedbacks and lead to pattern self-organization. While forcing-template models do not explicitly treat transport of the sediment that makes up the pattern, self-organization models focus on the strong couplings within flow/sediment systems, and on interactions between emergent structures. We illustrate the sweeping shift from template explanations to self-organization by discussing four nearshore patterns: beach cusps, surfzone crescentic sandbars, inner-shelf sorted bedforms, and large-scale cuspate shorelines. Models involving self-organization show that local interactions between flow and sediment transport can collectively give rise to patterns with large-scale coherence and that the driving feedbacks can be associated with either topographical or grain-size composition instabilities. An approach based on self-organization also allows researchers to establish limitations in the predictability of the occurrence of rhythmic patterns and characteristics as well as to study mechanisms leading to the observed variability of pattern or lack of regularity. © 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Coco, G; Murray, AB

Published Date

  • November 1, 2007

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 91 / 3-4

Start / End Page

  • 271 - 290

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0169-555X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.geomorph.2007.04.023

Citation Source

  • Scopus