Institute for Water Resources

Home > Missions > Coasts > Tales of the Coast > Coastal Dynamics > Waves

Tales of the Coast
Coastal Dynamics


Water waves (sometimes called gravity waves) are the dominant force driving littoral processes on open coasts. The following quotes from the Shore Protection Manual (1984) underscore the significance of waves in shaping coastal zone geomorphology:

"Waves are the major factor in determining the geometry and composition of beaches and significantly influence the planning and design of harbors, waterways, shore protection measures, coastal structures, and other coastal works. Surface waves generally derive their energy from the winds. A significant amount of this wave energy is finally dissipated in the nearshore region and on the beaches."

"Waves provide an important energy source for forming beaches; sorting bottom sediments on the shoreface; transporting bottom materials onshore, offshore, and alongshore; and for causing many of the forces to which coastal structures are subjected. An adequate understanding of the fundamental physical processes in surface wave generation and propagation must precede any attempt to understand complex water motion in the nearshore areas of large bodies of water."



Wave Crest: The highest point of a wave.

Wave Trough: The lowest point of a wave.