Wave shadow zones as a primary control of storm erosion and recovery on embayed beaches

Thomas E. Fellowes*, Ana Vila-Concejo, Shari L. Gallop, Mitchell D. Harley, Andrew D. Short

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    5 Citations (Scopus)


    Waves interact with headlands on embayed beaches through refraction, diffraction and attenuation and can create alongshore gradients in wave energy and beach response. This energy gradient shifts alongshore with changes in wave direction, especially during storms when waves may come from a direction different to average conditions. To better predict embayed beach storm responses, improved identification of exposed and headland shadowed zones is needed. Here we present a generalised geometric approach to quantify the alongshore distance shadowed by headlands, called the shadow edge (Ysh), differentiating exposed and headland shadowed zones. Our approach uses headland geometry collected from readily available imagery, combined with measured or modelled storm wave direction, reducing the reliance on complex nearshore wave models derived from relatively scarce bathymetric data. We use monthly topographic beach surveys (2015–2019) at nine embayed beaches in SE Australia to investigate the impacts of headland and embayment geometry relative to storm wave direction (i.e., exposure). Further, beach responses were compared to erosion and recovery rates across different embayment geometries with varying levels of geological control on beach morphodynamics. We found that storm frequency, headland shadowing and embayment geometry control the alongshore magnitude of beach erosion and recovery rates. Mean subaerial beach volume losses to six high-energy storms were on average 3.5 times higher in exposed zones (42.7 ± 40.7 m3/m) than headland shadowed zones (12.1 ± 23.6 m3/m). Our geometric approach provides a simple alternative to predict headland influence on beach morphodynamics. The approach can be applied at a regional scale and could be integrated into early warning systems to predict coastal erosion.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number108072
    Pages (from-to)1-10
    Number of pages10
    Early online date10 Dec 2021
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2022


    • Beach recovery
    • Coastal erosion
    • Geological control
    • Headlands
    • Morphometric analysis
    • Storms


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