Both textural maturity and structure acquired by gravels on beaches are largely a response to the interaction between beach surface and wave-backwash energy. The turbulent energy driving the processes of particle rejection andselection at the surface of growing gravel sheets is partly controlled by the grain size of the sheet itself, so the process is to a large extent self-regulating. Beach surfaces are seen to comprise many discrete sheets of gravel competing for growth at their boundaries, but each characterised by a uniform or uniformly gradational texture.
There are two main types of gravel sheet: (1) selection pavements which occur on low beach slopes, showing little areal grain-size or grain-shape variation, and (2) turbulence shadows which occur on steeper slopes and produce assemblages of clasts which may show perfect lateral shape and size gradation.
The clasts which make up these various gravel sheets are termed ‘clast assemblages’, and such assemblages are the fundamental units from which beaches are constructed. Clast assemblages are classified in terms of their textural maturity—the degree to which they exhibit uniformity in clast size and shape. In beach sections they are, either singly or in combination, bounded by planes of discontinuity (bedding planes) to form beds.
Repeated combinations of either clast assemblages or beds in a genetic association are regarded as sedimentary structures, many of which are diagnostic of the gravel beach environment. Growth of beaches involves the stacking of sedimentary structures, and four growth patterns have been identified. The beach structure is, therefore, classified in a hierarchy comprising clast assemblage, bed, structures and growth form, and it is the growth pattern which may be related to tidal range. P.ecognition of the processes which generate beach gravels through the structure of the gravels permits an analysis of the internal structure of major gravel bodies such as barrier beaches. It adds another set of criteria which may further lead to an understanding of the processes responsible for the generation and evolution of these large gravelforms.
Three types of gravel lithosomes have been identified. (1) Regressive barrier bars which form a series of gravel ridges separated by lagoonal deposits. Barriers are built initially by swash bars which grow in size and coarsen through time to become wave-resistant forms. They form as a response to times when the sediment, unable to be evenly distributed and sorted on the beach surface, forms a discrete bar seaward of the active beach. This is the result of a punctuated or continuously high sediment supply compared with the wave energy available to disperse the sediment, or a falling sea level which shifts the locus of sediment accretion. (2) In contrast, regressive (prograding) gravel sheets form as a response to a continuous supply of sediment to the beach surface, allowing it to build seaward by the uniform accretion of sediment which is sorted and retained on its surface. (3) Gravel sheets produced in transgression are characterised by an abundance of spherical clasts and are often overlapped by the sand beaches which occur seaward of them.