Beaches and Coastal Landforms

Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park

NPS Photo

Our national parks contain diverse coastal environments: high-energy rocky shorelines of Acadia National Park in Maine, quiet lagoons within War in the Pacific National Historic Park in Guam, and the white sandy beaches of Gulf Islands National Seashore in Mississippi and Florida.

In general, the coastal environment can be defined as that area lying at the interface between land and sea (or other large body of water). It includes both the zone of shallow water within which waves are able to move sediment, and the area landward of this zone, including beaches, cliffs, and coastal dunes, which is affected to some degree by the direct or indirect effects of waves, tides, and currents. The coastal environment itself may extend inland for many miles.

The coastal zone is one of the most dynamic regions on earth. Think of it, 70% of our planet is covered in water possessing enormous energy! The area where this water interacts with the land has great potential to develop unique and dramatic landforms.

Shorelines can be generally divided into two types, high-relief erosional shorelines and low-relief depositional shorelines.
Coastal processes create many features we see when visiting the National Parks such as:
  • Beaches
    • Sandy Beaches
    • Rocky Beaches
  • Beach Ridges - wave deposited ridge running parallel to shoreline
  • Wave-Cut Scarps - a steep bank created by wave erosion
  • Marine Terraces - a raised beach or 'perched coastline' that has been raised out of the sphere of wave activity


Visit the links on this page to learn more about the different types of coastal landforms that exist because of coastal processes in the National Parks.

Shoreline Geology--Oceanic

Shoreline Geology--Other Tidal/Estuary
Shoreline Geology--Lakes
Shoreline Geology--Reservoirs

Related Links


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