Beach Profiles and Sediments, a Case of Caspian Sea  

Alireza Firoozfar1 , Mir Ahmad Lashteh Neshaei2 , Alan P Dykes3
1. University of Zanjan, Iran
2. Guilan University, Iran
3. Kingston University, London, UK
Author    Correspondence author
International Journal of Marine Science, 2014, Vol. 4, No. 43   doi: 10.5376/ijms.2014.04.0043
Received: 13 Mar., 2014    Accepted: 16 Apr., 2014    Published: 29 Jul., 2014
© 2014 BioPublisher Publishing Platform
This is an open access article published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Preferred citation for this article:

Firoozfar et al., 2014, Beach Profiles and Sediments, a Case of Caspian Sea, International Journal of Marine Science, Vol.4, No.43, 1-9 (doi: 10.5376/ijms.2014.04.0043)

Abstract

The Caspian Sea is a closed depression and possesses almost all of the different coastal types existing along the world's coastlines. This research aimed to evaluate the linkage between sedimentary characteristics and beach morphology on the southern Caspian Sea coast. All available maps were reviewed and three field surveys were performed. The first survey gave a general insight into the study area; the second was aimed at nearshore sediment sampling, nearshore hydrography and shore topography; and the third survey evaluated deep sediment characteristics and provided hydrographic profiles. Laboratory tests were performed on sediment samples and, finally, a database was created including information about beach profiles and sediment characteristics. Data analysis showed that there is a direct correlation between beach gradient and sediment grain size: the steeper the coasts, the coarser the grain size and vice versa. On the sandy beaches of the southern Caspian Sea, the sediment grain size distribution was also correlated with beach face slope.

Keywords
Beach profile; Sediments; Caspian Sea; Beach face slope

The Caspian Sea, with a surface area of around 380,000 km2 and a volume of about 78,000 km3, is the largest inland sea on Earth. It is a remnant of the Tethys Ocean (Kroonenberg et al., 2007) and five different countries border this sea, namely Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Russia (Figure 1). This sea measures around 1,180 km North-South (36°-47°N) and as much as 480 km East-West (49°-54°E). It has no tides, and its salinity is only one third of that of the oceans, increasing from 5 g l–1 in the north, where the Volga River flows into the sea, to 13 g l–1 in the south (Peeters et al., 2000). The basin of the Caspian Sea can be subdivided into three parts (Froehlich et al., 1999; Kaplin and Selivanov, 1995):


Figure 1 The Caspian Sea, bordering countries, sub-basins, coastal morphological types (left hand figure)


A northern part, with a mean water depth of only 10 m,
A central part, where the water depth increases up to 788 m,
A southern part, wherein the water depth increases up to 1025 m.
Although a range of small and large rivers feed the Caspian Sea, from its all sides, its cachment extends mostly to the north, representing most of the riverine inflow with the Volga. Its mean annual discharge was around 238 km3 with measured variations of up to -11% and +29% over the period 1978 to 1993. This river contributes more than 82% of the influx to the Caspian Sea (Shiklomanov et al., 1995). The sediment flux associated with the Volga River discharge has created an extensive delta system with a gentle offshore and onshore gradient, and accounts, in part, for the shallowness of the northern part of the Caspian Sea (Overeem et al., 2003).
During the 20th century, the Caspian Sea showed profound changes in level. Its water level dropped by 3 m between 1929 and 1977 and then largely recovered with a 2.6 m rise from 1978 to 1995. The causes of such fluctuations are not yet entirely clear (Kroonenberg et al., 2007; Boomer et al., 2005). Most studies, however, emphasize the climate change and anthropogenic factors (Shiklomanov et al., 1995), rejecting the geological and tectonic effects (for example Rychagov, 1997; Golitsyn, 1995). Moreover, historical repeated water level oscillations in the Caspian Sea have been interpreted from sedimentary deposits (Hoogendoorn et al., 2005; Kroonenberg et al., 1997; Kroonenberg et al., 2007; Mamedov, 1997; Rychagov, 1997). Present coasts of the Caspian Sea were formed in response to its repetitive level variations during the New Caspian transgression which began 8,000 years B.P. These coasts can be classified into four categories (Kaplin and Selivanov, 1995): mud flats; depositional coasts composed of bars, spits, etc.; erosional coasts; and deltaic coasts (Figure 1). Mud flats generally were formed in the lowlands and rivers create deltaic coasts. Also, depositional coasts mark the areas in which mountain ranges are close to the sea. The Caspian Sea possesses, approximately, all of the different coastal types which can be found along the world’s coastlines. The causes and formation of these coasts have been addressed in scientific publications for instance: the barrier coast of Kaspiisk in Russia at the western Caspian Sea coast was comprehensively studied by Kroonenberg et al. (2000); Kroonenberg et al. (1997) investigated a gently sloping coast of the Volga delta; and the present day Kura delta, composed of sandy and clayey bodies was considered by Hoogendroon et al. (2005). For the southern Caspian Sea coast, however, published data are in relatively short supply (Kazanci et al., 2004).
Almost 700 km of the southern Caspian Sea coast is sited inside the Iranian border (Figure 2).


Figure 2 Three of Irans provinces bordering the Caspian Sea


The southern coast of the Caspian Sea can be morphologically categorized into five zones. Nearshore slope, shore morphology and sediment characteristics vary along the southern Caspian Sea coastline (Khoshravan, 2007). In the east, where the coast is composed of fine grain sediments, waves are prevented from reaching the shore due to the gentle slope of the nearshore zone. Sandy beaches stretch along the hundreds of kilometres of the southern Caspian Sea coastline and coarse grained beaches can be observed in some segments. These coasts were affected by the Caspian Sea level change in accordance with their offshore and onshore slopes. Different behaviours observed on different segments of the southern Caspian Sea coast are due to the differences between offshore and shore gradients (Lahijani et al., 2007).
Coastal sediments are a linkage between the energy source, waves and coastal landforms. There is no landform if sediments are not created and moved. Present day coastal sediments are composed of the materials resulting from cliff erosion, riverine sediments and sea bed erosion. By analysing these sediments not only can the development of coastal landforms be predicted, but also past and present processes can be interpreted (Pethick, 1984).
An analysis of sediments sampled from both the shore and offshore helps the researchers to understand movements and coastal evolution, to interpret past processes and also to find the linkage between sediment characteristics and beach shapes. The southern Caspian Sea coast has not previously been explored in detail. This paper presents new data from field surveys that demonstrate a direct correlation between beach profiles and sediment size on this coast.
1 Methods
This study is part of a comprehensive research project examining the behaviour of the southern Caspian Sea coast in response to its changing water level. The research was conducted based on the information obtained from three field surveys. To investigate the correlation between the beach morphology and sediment characteristics on the Iranian Coast of the Caspian Sea, the literature and background of the subject was reviewed including morphological, hydrographic and topographic maps on the scale of 1/100000. These maps were provided by the Iranian Caspian Sea National Research Centre, Iran's National Cartographic Centre, the Geological Survey of Iran and the Iranian National Institute for Oceanography respectively.
The first field survey was undertaken in order to understand the study area. Appropriate information was gathered in every region where access to the coast was possible. The information was documented by a hand GPS, filming and picturing and as an important part, interviews with coastal residents were performed throughout the survey. For instance, fishermen had a working knowledge of sandy bars on the nearshore bottom; therefore, practical information was obtained from them.
The northern part of Iran is divided into three provinces; Guilan, Mazandaran and Golestan. Most of the stations selected in this research are introduced by the names of the cities in which they are situated (Figure 2). The first survey began in Astara and finished in Gomishan. It covered almost all of the 700 km length of the southern coast of the Caspian Sea. After this survey, the stations of the second survey were chosen. During the second survey, information for the whole coastline consisting of sediment characteristics and beach profiles was gathered. Stations were selected at locations that were representative of the general situation thereabouts. In Figure 3, the locations of 24 stations are shown.


Figure 3 Twenty-four stations selected during the second survey


During the second survey, foreshore profiles were mapped, beach sediments were sampled and observations of shore features were documented. Furthermore, more information was collected by personal communications with southern Caspian Sea coast residents.
Sediments were sampled along profiles at backshore and surf zone locations in each station. In addition, cross-shore profiles were surveyed within a distance of 150~300 m from the shoreline, dependent on shore slope and landforms. Also, the nearshore profile up to a depth of 1.5m was mapped by wading. Information about deep sediments and overall slope of the seabed was obtained later during the third survey.
After reviewing previous data and studies conducted by Iran's Caspian Sea National Research Centre and the Iranian National Institute for Oceanography, eight principal sampling stations were chosen for this survey (Figure 4). In each station, sediments were sampled by divers along profiles at right angles to the coast at five depths (2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 m). Hydrographic profiles were surveyed by sounding up to a depth of 10 m. Particle size distributions of the samples were determined in accordance with ASTM C136 (ASTM, 2014). The median diameter, d50, is frequently used to define a sand sample and can be directly measured from the grading curve. Finally, beach profiles provided shore slopes, beach face slopes and nearshore slopes.


Figure 4 Principal stations


2 Results and Discussion
The North Alborz thrusting fault plays an important role in shaping the present morphological form of the southern Caspian Sea coast. This fault determines the border between the Alborz Mountain Range and coastal areas and strongly affects the width of the coast in different segments. Also, the rivers feeding the Caspian Sea from the south contribute great amounts of sediment to the shores to expand their width. Only two morphological phenomena in the east and west of this coast can be seen distinctly from the rest: Gorgan Bay in the east and Anzali lagoon in the west. In the rest of the regions, simple morphology such as mountains, gentle or steep foothills, small or relatively big lagoons, sandy dunes and sand bars at the shore or nearshore can be observed. The existence of each of these morphological phenomena in a region is dependent on the conditions of that region; for example, the steeper the nearshore bed slope is, the more sandy bars are formed on the nearshore (Kaplin and Selivanov, 1995).
Shore sediments and nearshore sediments vary along the southern Caspian Sea coast based on their type, and where the overall width of the coast reduces, the sediments are coarser. The distance of the mountain ranges from the sea in different areas of the coastline determines the width of the shore. At some points, the shore width is very narrow, nearly 1 km (for example western Mazandaran, around Ramsar), while in some other places such as the eastern parts it exceeds 60 km.
Shore slope varies from place to place.Both the offshore slope and the nearshore slope are being changed along the coast and these two slopes are substantially different in most regions. In some parts, the beach face slope is different from the general beach face slope observed along these coasts, that is, the coarser the sediments around the shoreline, the steeper the beach face slope. There is a correlation between shore slope, nearshore slope and sediment grain size. In some regions great rivers (for example the Sefid-Rud in central Guilan) which flow into the Caspian Sea expand the shore width. More than 50 rivers flow into the Caspian Sea from the south, the sediments of which have affected the morphology of the shore and influence the spatial distribution of the sediments characteristic. Waves, wave induced currents and riverine processes have a significant effect on coastal morphology. The southern Caspian Sea coast is mostly dominated by spilling breakers especially in Central Guilan, West Mazandaran, and East Mazandaran. In Golestan the closure depth point is far from the shore, as is the wave breaking point, due to the low beach gradient. As a result, the waves are prevented from approaching the shoreline and do not have a significant impact on the coasts. In West Guilan, the nearshore zone is steeper than that of Golestan and waves lose a portion of their energy before reaching the shore, while waves are breaking close to the shore in the other segments of the southern Caspian Sea coastline as a result of the steep gradient of the nearshore zone.
Sea level and sediment supply are two main factors controlling the highly variable river mouth and delta configurations (Lahijani et al., 2008). The Caspian Sea had considerable fluctuations in its level. The level of the sea has changed by around 3 m during the 20th century. This phenomenon and its impacts have been widely discussed in previous studies (Firoozfar et al., 2011). Also, due to increasing human activity and its impacts, the annual amount of riverine sediment has risen from 10 to 40 tonnes during the past decades. Rivers flowing from the south into this sea are categorized into three groups based on the morphology of their mouths and the nature of river/sea dynamics (Lahijani et al., 2008):
(i) Flowing through lagoons and lowlands, now ephemeral in nature due to increasing water consumption recently.
(ii) Have a normal flow and mostly seen in steep slope coasts; on moderately sloping coasts they are slightly affected by long-shore currents of the sea and some bars and lagoons are seen.
(iii) Great rivers with considerable sediment supplies (Sefid-Rud River in the West and Gorgan-Rud River in the East) producing deltas and mouth bars and having high sediment discharges.
While great rivers expand their deltas, in some cases small rivers locally impact coastal sediments and pose problems for the locals. For example, during the first survey, at a certain point in Kelachay, the local fishermen talked about an obstacle at a depth of around 2.5 m that would tear their fishing nets. Later, in the third field survey, this problem was investigated by divers. On this shore, fishermen would cast their fishing nets in 3~5 m depths of water and after a specified time would drag them out with tractors to gather in the fish. By diving, it was proved that this was a very thin, locally created layer of cohesive clay probably formed by sediments transported by several small rivers running close to each other. While being dragged along the seabed, the fishing nets must have been torn by this layer.
On-shore bars can show the dominant direction of the sediment transport in some regions. They are not seen in every region. They are mostly seen at the coast at Guilan and eastern Mazandaran, while nearshore sandy bars are formed in most regions, except Golestan (Pers. Comm. with local people, 2009). Small and relatively large lagoons can be seen in eastern Mazandaran and central Guilan. Coastal sediments are mainly sand, except for at the western Mazandaran coast in some segments of which gravelly beaches can be seen, and on the Golestan coast where coastal sediments are mostly clay.
Considering shore sediments, southern Caspian Sea coasts can be categorized into three groups: sandy beaches, gravelly beaches and muddy beaches. In Guilan and eastern Mazandaran, coasts are covered with sand. In the western Mazandaran however, in some segments not the whole coastline gravelly beaches can be seen. The Golestan coast is dominated by silt and clay.
For the whole Caspian Sea coast of Iran, nearshore sediment is mostly sand except that of Golestan where clay and silt dominates. One of the main reasons behind this is the direction of long shore currents. Generally, the southern Caspian Sea coasts are exposed to waves which come from the north, northeast and the northwest. The waves coming from the north and northeast reach the western part of the coastline, namely West Guilan, Central Guilan and West Mazandaran, while the waves reaching the eastern part including East Mazandaran and Golestan come from the North and Northwest (Lahijani et al., 2007). As a result of these waves,longshore currents can be observed in a North-South direction along the western and eastern coasts.Along Iran's Caspian Sea coast a prevailing eastward longshore current flows, which enhances the eastward descending trend in the size of the sediment. In some segments of West Mazandaran, gravelly particles are seen even at depths of up to 4 m. Moreover, clay and silt particles can be observed at different depths along the profiles.
Table 1 shows an increasing trend in the sediment size from both sides towards the centre. Generally, travelling from west and east towards the centre sediments are increasing in size. Also, a decreasing trend can be seen in the size of the sediments along the beach profiles at all stations (Figure 5).


Table 1 The percentage of silt and clay along the profiles at main stations



Figure 5 Median sediment grain size along profiles at main stations


Furthermore, an interesting result emerges from analysis of the deep sediment samples collected during the third survey. The plots in Figure 6 show the median sediment grain size at depths of 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 m for 8 main stations. In general, the median sediment grain size exhibits an increasing trend from west to east between Astara and Noor then a decreasing trend from Noor to Gorganrood. This trend follows both the nearshore gradient trend and offshore gradient trend.


Figure 6 Median sediment grain size measured at depths: 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 m for 8 main stations of the third survey


A comparison between these results and Figure 7 reveals that the sediment grain size along the southern Caspian Sea coast is controlled by bathymetry of the sea,
i.e. the steeper the coasts, the coarser the grain size. There are at least two simple reasons why this should be so.Firstly, coarser materials that are transported towards shore tend to be retained on the beach due to relative immobility and asymmetry of the incident wave. This makes a steep slope because for coarser material the angle of repose, the steepest angle at which a pile of unconsolidated grains remains stable, is larger than for fine materials. Secondly, beaches formed by coarse grained sediment are more stable in high-energy conditions due to their high permeability and roughness.


Figure 7 Top: Caspian Sea bathymetry (data from Irans Caspian Sea National Research Centre)

 
Bottom: Coastal classification based on offshore gradient along Irans Caspian Sea coast.
The most obvious changes along a beach profile occur in the beach face part which is directly exposed to incident waves (Figure 8).


Figure 8 Schematic typical beach profile, terminology and zonation (after Sorensen, 2006)


Beaches worldwide are similar in composition and shape. Figure
8 depicts a typical cross-section of a beach perpendicular to the shore, where four general zones of a typical beach profile that extends from the cliff or dunes to the end of the nearshore zone are defined. The waves coming from the offshore break in the nearshore section where sandy bars are built as a result of sediment movements. An offshore point at which sediment movements, resulting from waves, become almost insignificant marks the boundary between the nearshore and offshore zone; this is the seaward end of a typical beach profile (at a depth of approximately 10 m for the open seas). In fact, waves break in the surf zone and rush up the steep section of the beach profile, namely the foreshore zone, or beach face. During higher water levels wave action usually brings about scarps and the backshore portion of the profile may include more than one berm. At the shoreward end of a typical beach profile sand dunes, resulting from wind-blown sand, may be trapped by vegetation or cliffs may exist.
It is conventional that a calm wave profile (summer profile) is established after a period of low energy wave action during which the beach face becomes steeper as a result of the slight shoreward movements of sediment, while a storm wave profile (winter profile) is created when sand is transported seaward resulting from high energy wave action during storms (Dean and Dalrymple, 2002; Sorensen, 2006).
The beach face slope is related to both the wave steepness and sand size. For example, a beach face slope of around 1:10 to 1:15 can be observed on the northern shore of New Jersey in the United States where the median grain diameter is around 0.4 to 0.5 mm. Under the same wave energy conditions on the southern beaches a median grain diameter of around 0.15 to 0.25 constructs beach face slopes of approximately 1:40 (Sorensen, 2006). All previously published researches have been done on open sea coasts. For example, Figure 9 shows that while beach face slope is dependent on the sediment grain size, for low energy waves the beach face slope is steeper than that when it is exposed to high energy waves (Wright and Short, 1984). This slope-sediment correlation has been observed by many researchers, demonstrating steeper beaches with coarser materials and vice versa, affected by wave condition (Carter, 1998). Unlike other cases, the Caspian Sea is not an open sea and this study shows that this correlation exists between the sediment grain size distribution and beach face slope on the southern Caspian Sea sandy beaches (Figure 8). It can be clearly seen that the collected data are in the range defined by, for example, Sorensen (2006). There are some exceptions such as Chalus, Mahmood Abad and Ramsar (for locations see Figure 3). These beaches have very coarse grained sand and gravel on their faces and do not fall into the area between two curves related to low and high energy waves. It should be noted that this does not mean that these beaches, which are the coastal areas of some famous northern cities of Iran, have coarse sandy sediment along the whole of their length. For example, Ramsar has a generally gravelly beach and in some segments even boulders can be seen. As another example, Mahmood Abad generally has sandy beaches but some rivers flowing through them into the Caspian Sea provide coarse material to form local course grained beach faces. In contrast, Gorganrood is a muddy coast dominated by silt and clay which does not fall within the defined zone.


Figure 9 The correlation between median sediment grain size and beach face slope on the southern Caspian Sea coast. The solid blue and dotted red lines show the low and high wave energy curves respectively defined by Sorensen (2006)


Sediment grain size data were obtained by conducting laboratory tests on the sediment samples, taken during the second survey, and beach face slopes were measured from profile mappings. The reason why the Caspian Sea data are accumulated close to the low wave energy curve rather than the high wave energy curve is that the second survey, during which this data was collected, was conducted in late spring when the waves are becoming calmer but the sediments tend to move shoreward and construct steep beach faces. Moreover, the Caspian Sea is not an open sea and it is reasonable that data match the low wave energy curve.
3 Conclusion
Although the Caspian Sea is a unique natural laboratory for studies related to coastal response patterns there is a lack of information concerning the southern Caspian Sea coast and this segment of the coastline has not previously been adequately explored. The results of three field surveys provided a relatively comprehensive database for the Iranian coast of the Caspian Sea. Data analysis shows that sandy, gravelly and muddy beaches can be seen along the southern segment of the Caspian Sea shoreline. Nearshore sediments are mostly sand and the median sediment grain size increases from west to east between Astara and Noor then decreases again westward from Noor to Gorganrood. Regarding the bathymetry of the sea, both the nearshore gradient trend and offshore gradient trend controls the sediment grain size. Moreover, there is a direct correlation between median sediment grain size and beach face slopes on the studied coasts and the collected data are in the range defined by published researches such as Sorensen (2006) and Carter (1998).
Acknowledgements
This research benefited from the support of Dr. Hamid A. K Lahijani, Mr. Mehrdad Khan- mohammadi, Mr. Amir Monfared, Mr. Sadegh Nadimi, Mr Asghar Molaei, Dr. Abdolazim Ghangherme, Mr. Javad Malek, and Dr. Homayoun Khoshravan. I must thank all of them.
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