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Ben Thornes

Internal structure of a barrier beach revealed by ground penetrating radar

Wednesday 16th July 2014

Chesil Beach in Dorset is one of the most famous coastal landforms on the British Coast. The gravel beach is over 18 km long and is separated for much of its length by a tidal lagoon known as the Fleet. The beach links the Isle of Portland in the east to the mainland in the west. Despite its iconic status there is little information on its internal geometry and evolutionary history.

This paper presents a three-fold model for the evolution of Chesil Beach based on a series of nine ground penetrating radar (GPR) traverses located at three sites along its length at Abbotsbury, Langton Herring and at Ferry Bridge. The GPR traverses reveal a remarkably consistent picture of the internal structure of this barrier beach.

The first phase of evolution involves the landward transgression of a small sand and gravel beach which closed upon the coast leading to deposition of freshwater peat between 5 and 7 k yr BP.

The second evolutionary phase involves the ‘bulking-out’ of the beach during continued sea level rise, but in the presence of abundant gravel supplied by down-drift erosion of periglacial slope deposits. This episode of growth was associated with a series of washover fans which accumulated on the landward flank of the barrier increasing its breadth and height but without significant landward transgression of the barrier as a whole.

The final phase in the evolution of Chesil Beach involves the seaward progradation of the beach crest and upper beach face associated with continued sediment abundance, but during a still-stand or slight fall in relative sea level. This phase may provide further evidence of a slight fall in relative sea level noted elsewhere along the South Coast of Britain and dated to between 1.2 and 2.4 k yr BP. Subsequently the barrier appears to have become largely inactive, except for the reworking of sediment on the beach face during storm events.

The case study not only refines the evolutionary picture of Chesil Beach, but illustrates the importance of the subtle interplay between relative sea level and sediment supply in the evolution of a barrier system. In addition, it also illustrates the potential of GPR in resolving the evolutionary history of gravel-rich coastal landforms such as Chesil Beach.

Read the full article here.

Find out more about the author Professor Matthew Bennett here.

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