GCSE Geography AQA - The Coastal Zone

These are revision cards for GCSE geography AQA, I'm making ones for restless earth, the coastal zone, rocks, tourism, population and urban. In some parts its hard to describe processes without pictures, so just try to imagine it! These include case studies :)

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Weathering Processes & Mass Movement

The coastline is shaped by different processes.

These processes are a direct result of wave action, erosion, transportation & deposition of materials - MARINE PROCESSES.

They are aided by weathering of rocks exposed at coast & mass movement.

Types of mass movement:

  • Rock fall - fragments of rock break away from cliff, often due to freeze-thaw weathering
  • Landslide - blocks of rock slide downhill
  • Mudflow - saturated soil & weak rock flow downhil
  • Rotational slip - slump of saturated soil & weak rock along a curved surface
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Constructive & Destructive waves

Constructive waves:

  • calm weather
  • low in proportion to length, less powerful
  • responsible for transporting material
  • swash stronger than backwash
  • arrive at <10 per minute

Destructive waves:

  • stormy weather
  • tall compared to length, more powerful, high wave energy, large fetch
  • remove beach materal - erosion
  • backwash stronger than swash
  • arrive at 10< per minute
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Processes of Erosion & Transportatoopn

Abrasion/corrasion - cliff worn away when water picks up & hits rocks & sand against it.

Attrition - where rock fragments carried by sea knock against each other, causing them to get smaller & rounder

Solution - some rocks dissolved by seawater, particularly limestone & chalk which form cliffs

Hydraulic action - sheer power of waves as they smash on the cliff, trapped air blasts into holes & cracks, eventually causing rock to break apart. Explosive force of trapped air is called cavitation

Solution - dissolved chemicals derived from limestone/chalk

Suspension - particles carried within water

Saltation - 'hopping' of particles too heavy to be suspended

Traction - large pebbles rolled along sea bed

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Longshore Drift, Deposition & Headland & Bays

1. Swash picks up sand & shingle & travels up beach at an angle.

2. Due to gravity, backwash carries material straight down the beach.

3. E.g. prevailing winds in Britain is from south-west so material is moved from west-east along south coast of England

Deposition - occurs when build up of sand & shingle is greater than its removal.

Headlands & bays:

  • Bays form when less resistant rock is eroded first & there is deposition in the bay, forming a beach
  • Headlands form when more resistant rock is left sticking out, but then erosion begins to take place at the headland
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Wave-cut Platforms & Cliff Features

Due to processes of erosion, a wave-cut notch is made at the base of cliff, & eventually the weight of the cliff above is too great so the cliff collapses. This is cliff retreat.

The area under the wave-cut notch is the wave-cut platform.

Cliff features:

  • Caves - (hydraulic action & corrasion) formed in weaknesses
  • Arches - form when a cave is continually widened
  • Stacks - isolated portion of cliff, arch was too heavy so it eventually collapsed
  • Stumps - stack is undercut & colllapses to leave a stump, covered up at high tide.
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Beaches, Spits & Bars

  • Beaches - sandy beaches often form in bays; energy of waves reduced as they slow down; crests of waves 'mirror' shape of coastline; waves faster in deeper water & dragged back in shallower water due to friction - WAVE REFRACTION, spreads out & reduces wave energy, why deposition occurs at BAY HEAD BEACHES
  • Spits - formed by longshore drift; change of direction in coastline; sea relatively shallow & sheltered; prevailing winds; salt marsh begins to grow behind spit; occasional strong winds from NE turn end of spit; salt marsh is a wildlife habitat
  • Bars - a spit that has grown across a bay
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Reasons for Rising Sea Level & Hard Engineering

  • Glaciers & ice sheets melting
  • Global temps increase - sea water absorbs more heat & expands
  • Affected by rate of global warming

Hard Engineering:

  • Sea Wall - barrier to sea, placed at foot of cliffs/top of beach, curved face to reflect back waves, £6 per km, stops sea, can be unnatural, expensive, high maintenence
  • Groynes - wood/rock structures, trap material moved by longshore drift, £10,000 each, bigger beach, enhance tourist potential, starve beach down drift, unnatural
  • Rock Armour - pile of boulders at foot of cliff, absorb wave energy & protect cliffs, £1-400 each, quite cheap, easy to maintain, can be expensive, don't fit with local geology
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Soft Engineering & Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire

  • Beach Nourishment - adding sand/shingle to beach to make it bigger, usually obtained locally, £3,000 per metre, cheap, easy, increase tourist potential, need constant management
  • Dune Regeneration - effective buffers but easily damaged by trampling marram grass can be grown to help dunes develop, £22,000 per 100m, maintains natural coastal environment - wildlife, time consuming, can be damaged
  • Marsh Creation - (managed retreat), allow low-lying land to be flooded by sea, cheap, wildlife habitat, land lost, compensate land owners & farmers

Hurst Castle Spit, Hampshire

  • 3km in length
  • muddly, pebbly, salt marsh behing in sheltered water
  • Moving south-easterly 
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East Anglia, England

  • Vulnerable to rising sea levels
  • King's Lynn - under threat, valuable agricultural land
  • Norfolk Broads - popular for tourism, £5 mil a year, rising sea levels would flood them, destroy local economy
  • Erosion rates increase - sea defences will need strengthening, expensive
  • 1953 East Anglia - storm surge, killed 300 people, fear it will happen again
  • Low-lying mud flats & marshes - Essex vulnerable, 22% could be lost by 2050, managed retreat
  • Thames Barrier - will need replacing in next 30 - 50 years
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  • Natural impacts - low lying country - flooding & cyclones; scientists predict sea could come inland; most vulnerable country to sea level in the world; potentially 1.5m rise; rare species like Bengal Tiger & Wild Boar under threat; reduce freshwater availability; mangrove forests under threat
  • Economic impacts - high unemployment; tourism could be lost; one of poorest countries in world; decrease in GDP; loss of agricultural land; loss of roads etc
  • Social impacts - densely populated; poor health; famine; cholera; diarrhoea; contaminated water; coastal population displaced; homelessness; loss of agricultural land; communication loss
  • Political impacts - increased poverty, forced to seek aid from other countries; whether to spend money on food, health, water, depending on coast; rural to urban migration pressure services; movement of people across borders, tension between India & Bangladesh government
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Wessex Coast, Hampshire

  • Swanage Bay - softer clay cliffs, footpaths eroded, litter, sewage outflow; gabian protection - wire baskets filled with stones
  • South Haven Peninsula & Poole Harbour - sand dune ecosystem, fresh water marshes, 1mn tourists trample, Poole Harbour threatened by pollution; Studland Heath NNR, National Trust Property, sand dune restoration, Heritage coastline
  • Bournemouth - tourist resort, sewage outflow, hotels pressure cliffs, noise & litter; large scale protection scheme, groynes, beach replenishment
  • Hengistary Head & Christchurch Harbour - salt marsh, sand dunes, heath, wildlife, harbour suffers from silting & water sports; SSSI - site of special scientific interest, Stanpit Marsh Bird Sanctuary, large groynes
  • Christchurch Bay - 30m cliff retreat since 1971, sand & clay cliffs waterlogged, mudflows, landslips, material removed by waves; gabians, sea walls, beach replenishment
  • Hurst Castle Spit - formed by eroded cliff material in C. bay, supply of material reduced by groynes, increase intensity storms on spit, breached, salt marsh under threat; AONB - area of outstanding nature beauty, Keyhaven & Pennington, NNR & Bird Sanctuary
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Barton-on-Sea - hard engineering

Cliffs 30m high, made of sand & clay, recede at rate of 2m a year, some buildings lost to the sea

Cliff collapse:

  • permeable sands & impermeable clay, causes water to 'pond up', increases weight, rotational slumping
  • attacked by waves, powerful & undercut weak base
  • some streams in cliff that add to water in cliffs
  • buildings add to weight, interfere with drainage
  • made worse by groynes at Bournemouth, beach material cut off

Coastal defences:

  • 1965 - 1971 massive engineering scheme, cost over £6 mil
  • 1974 - 5 cliff collapsed by 5-10m over 100m stretch
  • added limestone boulders, drainage system, rock groynes, artifiicial beach
  • some houses only 20m from edge, lost in 10-20 years
  • some defences succesful, some failed, made worse by rising sea levels
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Essex Marshes

Mudflats, sand & shingle banks, salt marsh, coastal grassland, sea walls, valuable wildlife, marsh-plant communities, birds, marine life.

Under threat - farmers graduallt reclaiming land, 2500 ha left compared to 16000 ha in 1600, threat of humans from urban development

Strategies - allowing sea to flood large areas, make gaps in sea defences, more saltwater plants & wildlife live there, new low-lying wall to separate from farms; Wallsea allowed to flood by breaching sea defences, making marshes, islands, shallow saline lagoons & creeks, safe - guarding wildlife

Sustainability - sea defences may work for a while, but will eventually be breached - not sustainable; allowing to sea to do what it naturally does, wildlife habitats not at as much risk, work with the sea & not against it

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Keyhaven Salt Marshes

Formed because of Hurst Castle Spit, supports range of habitats - grassland, scrub, salt marsh, reed beds; rich biodiversity

Wildlife - cordgrass, sea lavender, ringer plover, common blue butterfly, wold spider, oystercatchers

How it is under threat - retreating by 6m a year - sea level rise, 'squeeze' of marsh lying between low sea wall & sea; breaching of Hurst Castle Spit in severe storms, exposed part eroded in 3 months; increased demand for tourism, careful management required to prevent trampling, parking, pollution, mooring of boats

What is being done - 1996 rock armour & beach nourishment, increase height of spit, £5 mil sea defences, spit not breached yet; recognised as important site for wildfowl & wading birds, site of special scientific interest (SSSI), natural nature reserve, access limited & development restricted

Big concern of rising sea levels, 6mm a year, 'squeeze' between low sea wall & rising sea.

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Very good revision resource..makes it easier to understand everything



I found it to be quite spectacular

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