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Alongshore variability in wave energy transfer to coastal cliffs

Vann Jones, E.C.; Rosser, N.J.; Brain, M.J.

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E.C. Vann Jones


The alongshore distribution of wave energy is believed to be an important control on the spatial variability of coastal erosion. There is, however, a lack of field data quantifying the alongshore variability in wave energy on rock coasts, whereby the relative control of coastline geometry versus foreshore characteristics on wave energy delivery remains unclear. A number of studies have identified high-frequency cliff-top ground shaking to be generated by wave impacts at the cliff toe during high tides (HT). To capture the variability of wave-cliff impact energy along-coast, we installed an array of cliff-top seismometers along a 1 km stretch of coastline in North Yorkshire, UK. Our aim is to constrain how wave energy transfer to the cliff toe varies, and to examine the relative energy transfer around typical coastline features, including a bay and headlands. Whilst the greatest HT ground motion energy is recorded at a headland and the lowest at the centre of the bay (5% of that observed at the headland), we identify no systematic alongshore variation in the HT ground motion energy that can be related to coastline morphology. We also note considerable variation between features of similar form: the total HT ground motion energy at one headland is only 49% of the next headland 1 km alongshore. Between neighbouring sites within the bay, separated by only 100 m, we observe up to an order of magnitude difference in ground motion energy transfer. Our results demonstrate the importance of the foreshore in driving the variations in energy delivery that we observe. Local alterations in water depth and foreshore topography control the alongshore distribution of wave energy available to generate cliff HT ground motions. Importantly, this apparently local effect overrides the influence of macroscale coastal planform morphology, which has previously been assumed to be the dominant control. The results show that foreshore characteristics that hold influence over wave energy transfer vary significantly over short (~100 m) distances, and so we expect erosion controlled by wave impacts to vary over similar scales.


Vann Jones, E., Rosser, N., & Brain, M. (2018). Alongshore variability in wave energy transfer to coastal cliffs. Geomorphology, 322, 1-14.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 13, 2018
Online Publication Date Aug 16, 2018
Publication Date Dec 1, 2018
Deposit Date Aug 14, 2018
Publicly Available Date Aug 15, 2018
Journal Geomorphology
Print ISSN 0169-555X
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 322
Pages 1-14


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