Influence of waves and horseshoe crab spawning on beach morphology and sediment grain-size characteristics on a sandy estuarine beach

Nancy L. Jackson, Karl F. Nordstrom, David R. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


The effects of wave action and horseshoe crab spawning on the topography and grain-size characteristics on the foreshore of an estuarine sand beach in Delaware Bay, New Jersey, USA were evaluated using data collected over six consecutive high tides. Data were gathered inside and outside a 25 m long exclosure constructed to create a control area free of disturbance by crabs. The density of crabs in the swash zone outside the exclosure was 8·1 organisms m-2. The maximum depth of sediment activation on the upper foreshore where spawning occurred was 0·103 m during periods characterized by low significant wave heights: < 0·08 m. This depth is greater than the depth of activation by waves alone during moderate significant wave heights of 0·16 - 0·18 m but less than the maximum depth (0·127 m) recorded when spawning occurred during periods of moderate wave heights. Spawning, combined with moderate wave heights, creates a concave upper foreshore that is similar to the type of profile change that occurs during storms, thus lowering the wave-energy threshold for morphological response. Spawning during low wave heights increases the mean grain size and sorting of surface sediments caused by the addition of gravel to the swash. Sedimentological differences are most pronounced on the upper foreshore, and data from this location may be most useful when using grain-size characteristics to interpret the effect of spawning in the sedimentary record. Depths of sediment reworking by horseshoe crabs can be greater than those by subsequent storm waves, so evidence of spawning can be preserved on non-eroding beaches. Greater depth of activation by horseshoe crab spawning than by waves alone, even during moderate-energy conditions, reveals the importance of crab burrowing in releasing eggs to the water column and making them available for shore birds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1097-1108
Number of pages12
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geology
  • Stratigraphy


  • Bioturbation
  • Delaware Bay
  • Foreshore
  • Gravel
  • Horseshoe crab
  • Sediment activation


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