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Simon Boxall receives funding from the university of Southampton, NERC and in the past the EU frame programme.



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You are watching: A storm washed away sand from a beach

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In spring 1984 a entirety beach disappeared. Over simply two days, the gold sands that Dooagh top top the island the Achill, off the west coastline of Ireland, to be stripped far to expose bare rocks.

This emerged during a series of southwesterly storms and, importantly, throughout peak equinox – brief periods in spring and also autumn when tides are an especially strong because of the nature that the earth’s movement roughly the sun. Jutting out into the Atlantic, Achill is exposed to the worst the ocean deserve to throw at it and southwesterly winds (from the southern west) have the right to generate substantive waves.

Thirty-three year later, in April 2017, the beach returned and the rocks were covered with sand as soon as again.

Though it might seem baffling to most people, yes nothing miraculous around what happened in Achill. This “magical reappearing beach” is simply a great example the a process that happens in coastal seas an ext regularly that you might think.

Bye taking leave beach

First, let’s take into consideration how Dooagh coast disappeared in the first place. The activity of pebbles, sand and also sediment approximately the coastline is led to by a mixture that waves, tides, and also what is cultivation on the seafloor. Waves no only have the capacity to stir up the sea bed and also to wash beach sand right into the ocean, but they can additionally create longshore drift as they strike a shore at one angle, progressively shifting sediment along the coast.

Rip-currents are produced in certain circumstances whereby water piles increase close to the shore and also can only departure the coast in narrow and also intense flows. These strong currents are ideal known to people for causing numerous fatal swim accidents, however they can also carry sand and pebbles much offshore. Seaweed can help stabilise those delicate sediments, but its growth is minimal in the early months the the year.

Achill Island deals with the full force of the Atlantic Ocean. Val Payne / shutterstock

When a coast gets unlucky and all of these components come with each other – strong tides and also abnormally high sea levels, a absence of seaweed – it can suddenly disappear. This is what happened to Dooagh in spring 1984, and had previously taken place in a similar incident over there in 1890.

Enter sand

So, what brought the beach ago in 2017 (and in 1927)? nearly the same procedures that stole that in the an initial place. Several of the problems were identical: April has the highest possible tides the the year and also low algal growth. However this time the coast replenishment arisen during northerly winds.

It’s difficult to say for sure where the sand had been for the previous 33 years however likely it was just sitting ~ above the seafloor some miles offshore and likewise in adjoining bays. The solid tides lifted the sand indigenous the seafloor (and from the adjoining bays that had actually benefited from the loan), unhindered by algae, and the northerly winds supposed the waves brought it onshore.

This didn’t occur overnight. End the previous two year surfers had reported see sand offshore. By in march 2017 (the 2nd highest birds of the year) local fishermen reported the appearance of a sand bar offshore and also a tiny amount of sand was deposited at the low water mark. The ongoing northerly winds followed by the outstanding April tides provided the final push and also returned sand come Dooagh, depositing that well above the median water level mark on the beach.

Changing coastlines

People in Achill shouldn’t get too complacent as there’s no doubt Dooagh beach will disappear again in ~ some point in future. It just needs come experience similar conditions to those that 1890 and 1984.

A coast disappearing so easily is rare yet not unheard of. In January 2015, because that instance, the citizens of Porthleven in Cornwall wake up to a rocky shore after a solid southwesterly storm stripped the sand from your beach, again overnight. The bay has actually the exact same southwards orientation as Dooagh. It developed during a feather tide, i beg your pardon is a fortnightly high tidal circulation (not come be perplexed with feather the season). However in this situation a transition of the wind (and thus waves) come southeasterly changed the sand just one job later.

In 1995 ns was connected in deploying some tools to measure up flows on a pebble beach close to the town of Southsea top top the English Channel. Overnight a strong storm hit, and on return the adhering to day the beach and all of our scientific tools had gone, leave behind a soft, sandy beach with an entirely various shape. Good for tourism, not so for science. In fact, the just science we accomplished was with recovering some of our battered and also heavy devices – lot of that ten mile to the east – i m sorry is maybe where most of the pebble beach had gone (though where the sand had come from is tho a bit of a mystery, maybe it was beneath the pebbles every along).

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These are simply a few examples; ns could point out many others. The coast of the British island is continually in flux for good reason. Every cubic metre of seawater weighs a tonne and Britain and Ireland room exposed to the pounding that Atlantic storms and also some that the strongest tides on the planet. Predicting where and when the coast will erode is much from simple. There is also the issue that one coastal area’s ns is another’s gain. If beaches space overprotected without cautious planning, retention the the beach-line in one location might mean that there is no longer replenishment sand more along the coast, resulting in a brand-new problem.

The sea has shaped and also re-shaped our coastlines because the Earth an initial had oceans, and will continue to perform so for many much more years yet. Ireland’s “reappearing beach” is simply a tiny snapshot of this process.