Beach Ridges and Island Geology

What you see in the panorama is the outermost beach facing the Atlantic Ocean where the water is very shallow. If you pan to the left you will observe a clearly demarcated beach ridge. You can observe the differences on the ocean side where the wave energy was stronger and left large shell deposits while on the island side the water left darker low energy sediments as the tide receded. Can you see other geological features on this vast beach front that can be explained by tidal water flow?

Barrier Island geology is a very important and ever changing component of estuary ecology. For example, there have been over a dozen inlets mapped this century yet only a few are currently observable? What do you think happened to them? Students can observe current and historical NC maps to see which major inlets are currently observable. Erosion and island migration are natural processes. Should man try to intervene? One current effort to combat the natural geologic processes is the transportation of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. Explore the available documentation on the massive efforts to save the 300 foot lighthouse from falling into the sea. How long do you predict it will be safe?

Students could also be engaged in discussions about ways to insure the current geologic features of the Barrier Islands. For example, it is illegal for 4x4's to drive on beach ridges or dunes. Can you imagine why? Students can discuss common themes for regulated use including: 1) camping, 2) fire safety, 2) pillaging, 4) fish and crustacean harvesting, 5) littering, 6) clearing, and 7) other general use. Students can compare the uniqueness of some NC beach regulations and create advertising campaign posters or web pages.


If you are unable to view these Quicktime Virtual Reality panoramas, you may need to download the Quicktime Player from Apple at If you are in need of other assistance or have comments about any of these pages please contact Dr. Randy Yerrick at Thanks in advance for your helpful feedback.