Cross-shore grading of sediment has been observed on the surface of estuarine beaches but the swash zone processes responsible for this grading have not been measured. This study was conducted to provide an explanation for the cross-shore grading of sediment on a predominantly sandy estuarine foreshore. Data on wave and swash characteristics and sediment trapped in the uprush and backwash during 25 swash events were gathered from mid-rising to mid-falling tide on a small transgressive barrier in Delaware Bay, New Jersey, USA. Sediment is predominantly quartz and feldspar, medium to coarse sands with a gravel fraction of granules and pebbles. Wave energies increased with tidal rise. The percentage of gravel in transport in the uprush and backwash is similar (11% and 13%) during the rising tide when the swash zone is at mid-foreshore, decreases in the uprush (9%) and increases in the backwash (18%) when the swash zone is on the upper foreshore. When the swash zone is at mid-foreshore on the falling tide, the quantity of gravel in the backwash (30%) is greater than in the uprush (24%). The low proportion of gravel within the foreshore prior to trapping, and the increase in the percentage of gravel when the waves and swash are on the upper foreshore, suggests that the step is the primary source of gravel high on the foreshore. The size of the step increases as wave heights increase with tidal rise. The rate of delivery of gravel into the swash is enhanced by sediment entrained during wave breaking and interaction of the uprush with the previous backwash. The lag in the rate of step migration relative to breaker migration during the falling tide increases the likelihood of mining gravel from the step and subsequent transport in the uprush and backwash. These findings are important for low energy estuarine beaches sensitive to small changes in tidal range and wave energy that cause sedimentological change across the foreshore.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Beach step
- Estuarine foreshore
- Sediment transport