Oceanus Magazine
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Images: Shaping the Beach, One Wave at a Time

The coastal waters off Haleiwa, Hawaii (near Honolulu) swirl with currents and suspended sediments. Waves approach the beach in different directions, driving alongshore currents of different strengths. As waves break, they generate turbulence that suspends sand and drives undertows. (Photo by Kimball McDonald, University of California-San Diego)

Many forces intersect and interact in the surf and swash zones of the coastal ocean, pushing sand and water up, down, and along the coast. Variations in the height and direction of waves, as well as the shape of the seafloor, drives currents that feed back and rearrange the system. (Illustration by Jayne Doucette, WHOI Graphic Services)

The ocean surges onto the streets of South Nags Head, N.C., wiping out dunes and damaging houses during the Halloween "perfect storm" of 1991. Ocean waters wash over barrier islands during storms because winds push water against the shore, low atmospheric pressure allows the water level to bulge upward, and breaking waves force water toward the shore. (Photo by Herman C. Miller, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)