Book reviewBeaches and Coasts R.A. Davis, Jr., D.M. Fitzgerald, published by Blackwell Publishing, Malden (MA)/Oxford/Victoria (Australia), 2004, ISBN 0-632-04308-3, 419 pp., £35.00.
Estuarine and Coastal Shelf Science, 63, (1-2), . (doi:10.1016/j.ecss.2004.11.002).
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The geomorphology and sedimentology of coastal systems varies greatly from ice-influenced arctic gravel beaches to tropical coral lagoons. The controls on coastal evolution are manifold, including climate, climate change, tectonics, geology, sea level change, human impacts and prior evolution. The process controls are complex often involving tidal and wave interactions as well as mechanical and chemical processes both sub-aqueous and sub-aerial. This said it is not realistic to expect any text to comprehensively deal with all aspects of coastal evolution. Thus on opening this book, I was intrigued to discover what the main emphasis would be. The cover is attractive and, at the outset, I thought the preface would explain why the title is “Beaches and Coasts” as this seems to infer that the two subjects are different phenomena. Surely a beach is a coastal feature? However, as I began to browse, I was uncertain of what the text was aiming to achieve as no preface was provided to guide the reader. Instead, the first of 21 chapters briefly provides an introduction to the varieties of coastal environment, and the history of coastal research and human settlement on the coast. The linkages between these aspects are poor, if made at all, and the information content is decidedly elementary. There is a boxed section detailing the plight of Venice, Italy, described as slowly subsiding into the coastal lagoon on which it is built. However, this information is not cross-linked to the main body of the text. No references are cited in the text; rather a few key up-to-date and relevant texts are listed at the end of the chapter.
Later chapters remain somewhat eclectic with poorly integrated sections, but overall these are better than the introduction, in-as-much as they each have a defined focus and once again include boxed examples that are interesting diversions. However, there is an odd mix of chapters; some focus on environments (e.g. barrier systems) whilst others are concerned with processes (waves or tides). It would have been better to group these into separate sections on environments and processes. Only one chapter specifically deals with process alone (erosion processes). These are predominately mechanical ones; there is some mention of bio-erosion, but chemical erosion is omitted. Refreshingly, the book includes a chapter on rocky coasts and tidal inlets, avoiding the mistake of focussing on sandy coastlines. Reefs are also considered; a topic which is usually neglected in many introductory texts, probably because many authors have been trained in temperate regions of the northern hemisphere.
The book is well illustrated throughout with monochrome or light-blue and grey figures, many of which seem to have been drawn especially for this work rather than being reproduced from other sources. The overall effect is pleasing to the eye and although some photographs are a bit dark, the detail is evident.
For those who wish to study coastal processes in any depth, this book has little to offer, however, it is an easy read for those who have little knowledge of either the variety of coasts around the world or of the basic controls on coastal formation and longer-term evolution through geological time. Disappointingly, there is no treatment, as far as I could find, of recent global climate change and the potential impact on differing coastlines. Thus, as the text on the back cover suggests, the book is suitable for secondary education or a broad-ranging introductory university course. Despite the publishers claim, it is not appropriate for upper level courses. There are other textbooks on themes like beaches and estuaries that provide more detailed consideration of processes and which are suitable for first-level university courses. To introduce university students to the principles of coastal morpho-dynamics requires more than description alone. A careful introduction and treatment to the topics is required but the present text is too condensed to provide much insight into how coastal processes operate. However, the clear exposition and wide-ranging subject matter should help orientate less informed readers and stimulate many to take the subject further.
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