Rip Current Formation and Beach Safety Implications for Several U.S. Atlantic Coast Beach Areas

Kathleen Michelle Fallon, Florida International University

Abstract

This dissertation combines seemingly different studies, which work together to describe the physical characteristics of rip current development and associated social implications at several locations. These fast-moving, concentrated flows of water travel offshore and can be found on any beach with sufficient wave action. Any event of increased wave steepness will erode a large quantity of sediment from the beach. The material deposited offshore eventually makes its way back; during this process, ocean water becomes trapped behind a shore-attached bar resulting in a ridge-and-runnel. These formations are seen at East Hampton, where rip-like currents form as concentrated water drains from the runnel through a breach in the ridge. Camera images from 2010-2016 captured ridge-and-runnel formations and the ensuing currents. These newly described rips behave similarly to bar-gaps; however, they are not directly related to wave action. Coastal scientists consider rip currents to be the number one hazard at most beaches. In Palm Beach County, two traditional rip types were studied: bar-gap and structurally-controlled. Lifeguard incident reports from 2011-2016 were used to correlate wind speeds and wave heights to rip related rescues at three beaches. This research was undertaken in an effort to determine under what conditions most beachgoers become caught in this hazard. Rip currents were seen to be the most dangerous to bathers on days with moderate wind and wave activity. The same beach states that lead to the strongest rips also tend to keep beachgoers from entering the ocean. A social survey at Miami Beach, from 2011 to 2012, quantified beachgoer’s rip knowledge and their recognition of hazards. A significant portion of the respondents showed insufficient knowledge, which indicated they are at-risk of being caught or drowning in a rip current. Frequent exposure to the beach, maturation, and residency were identified as the main contributors to one’s literacy whereas education was the only variable that influenced a beachgoer’s visual recognition of hazard. The information gathered by these surveys can aid in creating better rip current awareness campaigns targeted to demographics that were determined as the most at-risk. An understanding of the physical and social science of rip currents can mitigate the impact of these beach hazards.^

Subject Area

Geomorphology

Recommended Citation

Fallon, Kathleen Michelle, "Rip Current Formation and Beach Safety Implications for Several U.S. Atlantic Coast Beach Areas" (2017). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI10747704.
https://digitalcommons.fiu.edu/dissertations/AAI10747704

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