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A study of a shoreline

A study of a shoreline

Introduction: (Initial Observation)

Every year millions of dollars of public and private funds is dedicated to the study of shorelines for different purposes. Shoreline studies may have many different reasons. Some may want to study the environmental factors such as pollution and erosion. They may also study the economic effects of such environmental factors. Others may do feasibility studies for the purpose of construction of roads, barriers, homes, bridges, ports or preparation of plans for services such as cleanup or even creation of a public beach. In general the study of shoreline is the study of environmental factors for a specific purpose. In one specific study, engineers wanted to determine if there is adequate wind speed to economically justify development of a wind farm in the shore line.


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Project Advisor

One of the specific types of erosion in shorelines is known as Longshore Transport.
Click Here for the Longshore Transport project.

Information Gathering:

In many cases study of shore lines include the study of the shoreline rate of erosion. A shoreline that is subject to continuous and high rate of erosion is not suitable for any kind of investment. Simply any investment in such a shore line is a high risk and short term investment that is not acceptable by most investors and governments. Construction of roads, resorts, industries and urbanization are all long term investments and require a thorough study to safeguard such investments.

To gather information for this project, try to find methods of detecting and monitoring the erosion. Read books, magazines or ask professionals who might know in order to learn about the factors that may cause erosion and the type of soil that is susceptible to erosion.

What is the purpose for my shoreline studies?

Your study can be a general purpose study. Imagine a large shoreline property (Land) is for sale and a potential buyer is asking you to study the shoreline and give him a report that can help him to evaluate the offer and make a decision. You will be the consultant for the buyer. Your report may show that the shoreline is a polluted, fast eroding land away from roads, industries and civilization. Your report may also show that the land is not flat and the soil is not suitable for agriculture and no fresh water is available in the area.

On the other hand your report may show that the shoreline is not eroding and the area is flat with a very low slope toward the water. It may also indicate that the area is close to some large cities and main roads with potential for urban development, resorts and industries. The land may also include a water fall or high wind that could be used to produce electricity.

In general some of the variables that you may study are:

  1. Local wind speed and direction and how they affect the land erosion.
  2. Water currents, flood history, and how they may affect the land erosion.
  3. Pollutions in the land and water that may make the area unsuitable for certain uses.
  4. Location: The position of the shoreline in relation to the nearby cities, roads and other developments.
  5. Soil composition for the purpose of farming or agriculture
  6. Soil composition for it’s susceptibility to erosion.

Where to start?

Start by creating a map of the shoreline. You may get geological survey maps from local libraries, city government, county government or state government. (Ask for maps and publications sales office.).

Redraw and enlarge the map of the area of your study. Governments make a new survey every few years and make a new map. Comparing the old maps with new maps can show the changes in the shoreline. You may also find actual photos taken from the shoreline from the sky. The map that you make can be a multi-stage map. For example it can show the shoreline 50 years ago, today and after 50 years (based on your forecast). Your map will be used as a part of your report and presentation (display).

Note that consulting companies charge thousands of dollars for each day of doing such studies. You have to do yours with no budget or very limited budget. So be creative in doing your project in the least expensive way.

Study of winds:

Gather information about the wind speed and direction in the area of your study. Historical wind data are available through weather monitoring organizations. You may also find some of such data on the Internet. See a sample. Search the Internet for wind data. Wind data is also needed if you are planning to install wind turbines and use a beach as a wind farm. After gathering the wind data, you may also want to perform wind erosion experiments in a wind tunnel with a wind speed equal or more than the maximum wind speed in the area to see how such wind can affect the soil of the area. Another thing that you may want to do is testing the soil composition. Gravels, large stones and moist soil with organic and plant parts will not easily move by wind, however dry sand can easily fly away by strong wind currents.

Ocean waves and currents:

Water currents are the main cause of erosion in shorelines. Water currents can be in the form of ocean waves caused by wind or flow of water in rivers. The type of soil in a shoreline and the speed of water, together are the factors that contribute to the erosion and deformation of shorelines. Erosion will take away parts of a shoreline and may add sediments to other parts. Although soil can be tested for it’s susceptibility to erosion by water currents, we can not know the total effects by a short term observation. That is why historical data and maps are very important in this part of research. Presence of fine sand by itself is an indication of erosion, however not all erosions change the shoreline. In some areas water currents and waves will break down the rocks to fine sands, however they do not cause massive disposition of sands.

Precipitations (rain, snow, hail):

Precipitation is another cause of erosion. Precipitation data can be collected from the weather monitoring organizations. Soil test is required to see how does precipitation affect the erosion. If the soil can not infiltrate water, it results runoffs that in turn cause erosion. Soil composition can determine the speed in which water can be infiltrated. If the rate of precipitation exceeds the rate of soil infiltration, runoffs will happen and soil will be washed away.

Study of pollutions:

Make an observation. Look for visual signs of pollutions or symptoms such as dead plants or animals. Collect water samples. Look for oily substances on the surface of water. Check the color and odor of water. See if a fish can survive in the water sample that you have collected. See if parts of shoreline are used as a dumping ground for urban or industrial garbage or industrial run-offs.

There are many kits available for testing pollutions. Some kits test certain chemical elements such as nitrogen. Nitrogen compounds in water or soil represent presence of nitrogen fixing bacteria and organic mater such as dead animals.

Question/ Purpose:

What do you want to find out? Write a statement that describes what you want to do. Use your observations and questions to write the statement.

The purpose of this project is to study a shoreline for possible developments or its environmental or economical effects.

Identify Variables:

When you think you know what variables may be involved, think about ways to change one at a time. If you change more than one at a time, you will not know what variable is causing your observation. Sometimes variables are linked and work together to cause something. At first, try to choose variables that you think act independently of each other.

Variables that have economical or environmental effects in a shoreline are:

  1. Shoreline rate of erosion and geological change.
  2. Shoreline soil composition.
  3. Shoreline rain, flood and wind history.
  4. Shoreline location in relation to main roads and urban developments.
  5. Soil and water pollution in the shoreline.

You may study all or some of the above variables.


Based on your gathered information, make an educated guess about what types of things affect the system you are working with. Identifying variables is necessary before you can make a hypothesis.

In this type of project that you perform a general study, no hypothesis is required. However, for each experiment that you perform, you may come up with a hypothesis. For example imagine you take a soil sample and want to test or experiment the effects of 30 miles per hour wind on the soil sample. Following are two possible hypothesis for when you test the effect of wind on soil.

  1. I think a 30 miles per hour wind has no erosion effect on the soil. My hypothesis is based on my observation of the soil sample that contains large gravels and noticeable amounts of moisture and vegetation.
  2. I think a 30 miles per hour wind can dry up the soil surface in a short amount of time and make the soil susceptible to erosion by wind.

Note that you choose what type of test or experiments you want to perform on your soil samples.

Experiment Design:

Design an experiment to test each hypothesis. Make a step-by-step list of what you will do to answer each question. This list is called an experimental procedure. For an experiment to give answers you can trust, it must have a “control.” A control is an additional experimental trial or run. It is a separate experiment, done exactly like the others. The only difference is that no experimental variables are changed. A control is a neutral “reference point” for comparison that allows you to see what changing a variable does by comparing it to not changing anything. Dependable controls are sometimes very hard to develop. They can be the hardest part of a project. Without a control you cannot be sure that changing the variable causes your observations. A series of experiments that includes a control is called a “controlled experiment.”

Most of the information in a shoreline study will be gathered by field observation. If any experiments are required, they are usually erosion tests.

Experiment 1:

Erosion of soil by rain.

In this experiment I test the effect of the speed of raindrops on the soil erosion.

Make a rain simulator and use it to test the effect of rain:

Place a tray on a slope similar to the place where you got your soil sample and hang a bucket or metal can above the tray. The can or bucket must have holes at the bottom for water to exit in the form of rain. Make the holes about an inch apart and insert a short string or tooth pick in each hole.

The purpose of a string or tooth pick is to prevent a continuous flow of water to come out. This simulates the rain drops. A knot on string can hold it in place.


The bucket will be your rain simulator. Test it in advance to see what level of water in the bucket gives you the best rate of rainfall.


Keep the bucket as high as you can, so the speed of raindrops will be close to actual rain.


Fill up the tray with your soil sample. place the simulator bucket as high as possible above the tray. Prepare one gallon water and gradually add it to your rain simulator bucket. Gather the run-off water in another container such as a clear jar.

Filter the runoff water and let it dry. Weight the dry sediment that you collected from runoff and divide it by the total weight of the soil sample.

Another method:

Instead of using a tray and measuring the weight of solids in runoff, you may do the test on the field. Insert a Popsicle stick or a ruler in the soil and mark the soil level on that. Start the rain. Measure the loss of soil after certain amounts of rain. This amount can be equal to the annual amount of rain in the area of your study.

Experiment 2:

Erosion of soil by wind

This experiment can also be done on the field. Insert a few sticks in different places of your field and mark the soil level. Make daily or weekly observations and record the change in the soil level. If the shoreline is sandy, you may notice daily changes, otherwise changes in the soil level by wind may never happen or be very slow. If you have a portable (battery operated blower), you may simulate wind. In this way you need to estimate the speed of wind generated by your blower.

For more technical information about wind erosion, visit the following link: http://www.weru.ksu.edu/new_weru/

Materials and Equipment:

List of material depends on the experiments that you choose to perform.

Results of Experiment (Observation):

Experiments are often done in series. A series of experiments can be done by changing one variable a different amount each time. A series of experiments is made up of separate experimental “runs.” During each run you make a measurement of how much the variable affected the system under study. For each run, a different amount of change in the variable is used. This produces a different amount of response in the system. You measure this response, or record data, in a table for this purpose. This is considered “raw data” since it has not been processed or interpreted yet. When raw data gets processed mathematically, for example, it becomes results.

Results of your erosion tests can be recorded on the map. Make a copy of the map for rain erosion test results. Divide the map in small sections based on the type of soil that you observe. Paint the areas that are very susceptible to rain erosion with black paint. Shades of black may be used for areas that are partially susceptible to rain erosion. Leave blank or paint white the areas that are fully resistant to the rain erosion.

You may produce other maps to show the soil type, plants, rocks, wetland and etcetera.


If you perform any calculation, write your calculations in your reports.

Summary of Results:

Summarize what happened. This can be in the form of a table of processed numerical data, or graphs. It could also be a written statement of what occurred during experiments.

It is from calculations using recorded data that tables and graphs are made. Studying tables and graphs, we can see trends that tell us how different variables cause our observations. Based on these trends, we can draw conclusions about the system under study. These conclusions help us confirm or deny our original hypothesis. Often, mathematical equations can be made from graphs. These equations allow us to predict how a change will affect the system without the need to do additional experiments. Advanced levels of experimental science rely heavily on graphical and mathematical analysis of data. At this level, science becomes even more interesting and powerful.


Using the trends in your experimental data and your experimental observations, try to answer your original questions. Is your hypothesis correct? Now is the time to pull together what happened, and assess the experiments you did.

Related Questions & Answers:

What you have learned may allow you to answer other questions. Many questions are related. Several new questions may have occurred to you while doing experiments. You may now be able to understand or verify things that you discovered when gathering information for the project. Questions lead to more questions, which lead to additional hypothesis that need to be tested.

Possible Errors:

If you did not observe anything different than what happened with your control, the variable you changed may not affect the system you are investigating. If you did not observe a consistent, reproducible trend in your series of experimental runs there may be experimental errors affecting your results. The first thing to check is how you are making your measurements. Is the measurement method questionable or unreliable? Maybe you are reading a scale incorrectly, or maybe the measuring instrument is working erratically.

If you determine that experimental errors are influencing your results, carefully rethink the design of your experiments. Review each step of the procedure to find sources of potential errors. If possible, have a scientist review the procedure with you. Sometimes the designer of an experiment can miss the obvious.


List of References