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Outline the Factors that Influence the Amount of Wave Energy that Arrives at the Coastline.

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William Murdoch

Outline the Factors that Influence the Amount of Wave Energy that Arrives at the Coastline

        The amount of wave energy that arrives at the coastline is governed by a combination of factors.  By wave energy, we mean the actual amount of force a wave can exert on a body, and by coastline, we mean the interface between the land and the sea.  This essay will discuss the factors involved with the gaining of wave energy.  Secondly, the factors involved with the reduction of wave energy will be discussed.  Thirdly, there are the directional factors and finally, the human factors.

        Wave energy is inversely proportional to the wave height squared.  Therefore it is the factors governing wave height, which govern the gain in wave energy.  Wave height is the vertical distance between the bottom of the trough and the peak of the crest.  It is governed mainly by fetch, (the distance over which the same wind direction has influenced the waves) and wind speed.

        With a large fetch and low wind speed, surging waves are formed.  These are flat, low waves of low energy.  They have wavelengths of around 100 metres and a wave height of one metre or less.

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        If there is not a gently sloping near shore profile, then the plunge line will occur closer to the coastline.  If the coastline is simply a cliff face, then the plunge line may not occur at all.  In this case, very little of the wave energy is dissipated, so almost all of it arrives at the coastline.  This results in the process of wave pounding, in which a wave hits the cliff with all its energy, creating a shockwave of up to thirty tonnes per square metre. An example of such a coastline is that of Holderness during high tide.

        There are other factors involved in reducing the energy reaching the coastline, for example, the types of sediment with which the near shore zone consists.  The rougher the seabed, the more frictional drag and the less energy that reaches the coastline.  Different types of sediment dissipate wave energy to different degrees.  As the sediment is determined by long shore drift and rock type etc, these in turn are factors themselves.  Other forms of offshore topography, like corals or kelp forests, influence the wave energy in a similar way.

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        The elements discussed in the essays combined together, sum up well the factors, which influence the amount of wave energy, which arrives at a coastline.  However, it only accounts for the ordinary, day to day factors.  Sometimes in history, there have been exceptional influencing factors, for example, the North Sea storm surge of 1953.  It was caused by extremely low pressure, which enabled the water of the North Sea to pond.  As it moved south, the energy was funnelled by the coastline, causing six metre high waves.  There are many other geographical events, which have similar results. Volcanoes like Krakatoa cause huge Tsunamis. When it erupted in 1883 it caused a wave of 300 feet high killing 3600 people. Earthquakes in the waters off Japan like that of 1896 have caused waves of 100 feet high killing 22072. 7000 years ago a landslide occurred off the coast of Norway causing a wave 1000 feet high! Finally meteor collisions with the earth cause waves bordering on the apocalyptic like the impact, which occurred 65 million years ago. Although rare, such waves exert such phenomenal energy on the coastline that such events are a very important factor indeed.

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