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Australian Beach Data: Site selection, attributes and quality control

Prepared by A D Short & K McLeod
Australian Beach Safety and Management Program
Surf Life Saving Australia Ltd beach data supplied to ERIN
10 June 1998

1. Introduction

This report details the beach and coastal data supplied by the Australian Beach Safety and Management Program (ABSAMP) to ERIN for use in the Australian Coastal Atlas. ABSAMP is a joint project of Surf Life Saving Australia Ltd (SLSA) and the Coastal Studies Unit (CSU) of the University of Sydney. Its aims are to compile a comprehensive, standardised and scientific database of physical attributes and facilities at all Australian ocean beaches, in addition to assessing the nature and level of physical beach hazards at each beach, and thereby the level of public risk. The project commenced in 1990 and the database is complete for New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, with South Australia scheduled for 1998, Western Australia for 1999, and Tasmania for 2000.

2. Datasets and tables

The data supplied to ERIN is contained in six tables headed BEACH, SURF ZONE, SEDIMENT, BARRIER, DRAINAGE and SAFETY, plus an additional table headed LOC(state) which contains the latitude and longitude of the midpoint all beaches in each state. All six tables have some common variables that permit identification and facilitate linkages, together with their unique set of variables. The variables contained in each table are listed in Appendix 1. The tables list the variable name, together with a brief description of the variable attributes. A similar and often fuller description of each attribute is also contained in the Microsoft Access database, within the 'design view' of the table. Following the description is an indication of the data source. This is usually from maps, aerial photographs, site inspections, published material and laboratory analysis. A more detailed description of the sources follows.

3. Data sources

The core of this database is information about each beach on the coast of each state. This includes all ocean beaches and in NSW, beaches in Jervis Bay; in Victoria, beaches in Port Phillip Bay; while in Queensland beaches in a number of large open bays and sounds are included. Basically every identifiable beach is included, with the smallest beaches being only 20 m in length. Many small beaches not identified on maps were identified from aerial photographs, both vertical and oblique. As such, the database contains information on the entire open, sandy coastline of each state; the missing coast being either rocky or water (inlets). It also contains information on the sandy shoreline of most major bays, and in Queensland it includes intertidal sand ridges and sand flats, which may have limited fringing mangroves. It does not however include muddy tidal flats, or sand flats dominated by mangroves.

Data for each beach has been obtained from a wide range of sources. Major sources include:

3.1. Large scale topographic maps

In all cases the largest scale map available for each coastal section was used, however depending on state and location this ranged from 1:25 000 to 1:100 000, as indicated below:

NSW - 1:25 000
Victoria - mainly 1:25 000 and some 1:100 000
Queensland - 1:25 000, 1:50 000 and 1:100 000

Maps were used to determine the following variables:

TABLE FIELDS
BEACH length (m), orientation, embaymentisation (chord/arc)
BARRIER orientation, barrier width (min & max), barrier length (m), total area, barrier height (mean), barrier height (max), back barrier type
DRAINAGE name, location, type (creek or stream, river, other), trained, lagoon name, lagoon area, headland

3.2. Aerial Photographs

All available vertical aerial photographs were inspected at the following locations:

The photos were used to extract the following information:

TABLE FIELDS
BEACH mean width, mangroves, other features
SURF ZONE intertidal width, sand flats, sand ridges, mean bars, all BS (beach state) variables, mean rip spacing, SD rips, topographic rips
BARRIER stable area, semi-stable area, unstable area
DRAINAGE usually closed, open/closed, open
SAFETY beach state, topographic rip, protected end, protected end location, inlet, inlet location, structures, outfalls

3.3. Beach inspections

Most beaches were inspected on the ground. They were accessed via road/track, by boat in cases where no vehicle access was available, and in a few cases by foot and helicopter. An indication of most beaches that were physically inspected is provided by the SEDIMENT table, as sediment samples could only be obtained from visited beaches. The aim of the beach inspections was to obtain information and material not available from the above map and photograph sources. This includes the following variables:

TABLE FIELDS
SURF ZONE swash gradient, mean Hb
SEDIMENT (sediment sample), sediment type

3.4. Published material

The Australian National Tide Tables published by the Hydrographic Service (1997) was used to obtain the following variables from the nearest Standard Port:

TABLE FIELDS
SURF ZONE tide station, neap tide range, spring tide range

Various published sources were used to obtain information on deepwater and breaker wave height, wave period and wave direction along the coast. This information was combined with visual observations made during ground and aerial beach inspection to produce an estimate of breaker wave height at each beach. This is the most subjective of all variables in the database.

3.5. Sediment Laboratory Analysis

Laboratory analysis of all sediment samples was undertaken in the Geomorphology Laboratory at the School of Geosciences, University of Sydney, to determine their size characteristics and percentage of carbonate material. The following procedures were used:

All samples were washed in fresh water and dried. All samples were subsampled and treated with HCl, then dried and reweighed to calculate the percentage of calcium carbonate versus other minerals. All samples with any material >2 mm were sieved at phi intervals, and the mode/s, mean, skewness and kurtosis calculated using the McBride technique. The mean grain size was converted at a fall velocity using the Gibbs et al (1971) graph. All samples with all material >2 mm were subsampled and their size distribution measured using a settling tube. The settling tube results were computer processed with size distributions (mode, mean, sorting, skewness, kurtosis) provided in moments, McBride (1971) technique and Folk and Ward (1957) technique.

4. Other variable attributes

4.1. Common variables

Key
This is a unique beach identification number. In each state or territory, the first beach encountered in moving clockwise around the coast is numbered one (1), with consecutive clockwise beaches carrying on the numbering system. However the Commonwealth territory at Jervis Bay is included as part of NSW for numbering purposes. On longer beaches, particularly where a beach's characteristics or name changes longshore, the beach is divided into subsections labelled A, B, C etc. These are all prefixed by the key number, hence 1A, 24B, 644D, etc. In this case the following attributes refer to that section of beach only, and need to be grouped or summed for the entire beach.

Beach
This is the name of the beach. If no name can be determined, then the name is replaced by the 'Key' number.

Drainage Key
This is a Key number assigned to each drainage system, beginning at one (1) for the first system encountered and increasing clockwise along the coast, in the same way as the Beach Key. The Drainage Key links the BEACH table to the DRAINAGE table.

Barrier Key
This is a Key number assigned to each barrier system, beginning at one (1) for the first system encountered and increasing clockwise along the coast, in the same way as the Beach Key. The Barrier Key links the BEACH table to the BARRIER table.

4.2. Comments on specific table/variable attributes

The LOCNSW, LOCV and LOCQ tables contain the latitude and longitude locations of the mid point of each beach. The latitude and longitude coordinates are used to plot each beach's location in the MapInfo GIS system, and are initially linked to all other data tables to generate graphical points for each beach.

The BEACH table contains attributes of the subaerial beach, as well as any other physical and biological features that may border or impinge upon the beach, including headlands, rocks, reefs and mangroves. These are obtained from the sources discussed above and indicated in Appendix 1.

The SURF ZONE table contains information on features usually located below the high tide limit, including all surf zone bars, and sand ridges and sand flats on lower energy beaches. These features have been used to codify all beaches into one of twelve distinct beach types (1-12). Full descriptions of each category are provided in the books that accompany the database for each state.

There are eight 'beach state' variables. These cover both ends of longer beaches (indicated by 'northern end' and 'southern end' in NSW and QLD, and by 'NSW end' and 'SA end' in Victoria) and on beaches with two bars, the inner (I) and outer (O) bar. In NSW there were sufficient observations made from vertical aerial photographs to also calculate the standard deviation (SD) of the beach type. Therefore 'SD_Nth_O_BS' refers to the 'standard deviation of the beach state on the northern outer bar'.

The numerical coding for the beach states is as follows:

Wave dominated beaches (all of NSW, most of Victoria, southeast Queensland)

1. Reflective
2. Low Tide Terrace
3. Transverse Bar and Rip
4. Rhythmic Bar and Beach
5. Longshore Bar and Trough
6. Dissipative

For a full description of beach states see Short (1993, 1996).

Tide modified beaches (some of Port Philip Bay, Queensland north of Fraser Island)

7. Reflective plus Low Tide Terrace
8. Reflective plus Low Tide Bar and Rip
9. Ultradissipative

Tide dominated beaches (Queensland north of Fraser Island)

10. Beach plus Sand Ridges
11. Beach plus Sand Flats
12. Sand (tidal) Flats

For a full description of tide modified and tide dominated beach states see Short (in press).

The SEDIMENT table is designed to provide a generalised description of the typical sediment characteristics of the beach, based on one sample obtained from the mid-swash zone, or from the mid inter-tidal zone on low energy beaches.

The BARRIER table provides a quantitative summary of the barrier age and dimensions, together with brief qualitative comments in some cases. Each barrier is also linked to associated beaches in the BEACH table, generally in a one:many relationship (one barrier associated with one or more beaches).

The DRAINAGE table provides a quantitative summary of any natural drainage across or against the beach, together with brief qualitative comments in some cases. Each drainage system is also linked to associated beaches in the BEACH table, quite often in a many:many relationship (more than one beach associated with one drainage system and/or more than one drainage system associated with one beach).

The SAFETY table lists those variables that may impact on public bathing/swimming safety. It provides a 'physical rating' that is based solely on the beach attributes, followed by a 'Hazard Rating' based on all potential hazard criteria at the beach. Both ratings are a number between 1 and 10. The criteria for each rating are described in each of the Short references. Only one hazard rating is given for NSW and Victorian beaches, whereas Queensland beaches are given a rating for both high tide (HT) and low tide (LT) conditions.

5. Data entry

All data is initially entered into a Microsoft Access database. All entry is performed by A D Short and an assistant. Once data entry is complete, the data is checked and made ready for all subsequent data analysis and management. The completed and checked dataset is then split into the predetermined discrete tables (as in Appendix 1), using MS Access queries, and imported into ABSAMP's MapInfo GIS, using MapInfo's SQL DataLink module.

All beaches are then located and graphically plotted in the GIS, based on the known position of the beach's mid point (in Australian Map Grid eastings and northings) taken from the largest scale topographical map available for each area (between 1:25 000 and 1:100 000 depending on remoteness of location). Points are located on a coastal outline (LGAs) layer in the GIS at a scale of approximately 1:30 000. The projection of the map layer is then changed to Longitude/Latitude (WGS 84) to retrieve latitude and longitude coordinates for the mid point of each beach. These coordinates are fed back into the MS Access database by linking with the Beach Key field, to keep both the original core database and the MapInfo GIS complete.

This beach plotting step of data entry is integral to the system and is done firstly to acquire latitude and longitude coordinates for the mid point of all beaches, and secondly to link all data tables with the resulting graphical representation of the beach's location.

Data quality control involves a fairly rigorous process of double-checking for typographical errors made in data entry, as well as cross reference of select table attributes, such as beach length, with topographical maps. This last check is made during graphical plotting of beaches into the GIS.

When all geographical and physical data is complete and linked to spatial coordinates, the data tables are converted to ARC/INFO export format with MapInfo's ArcLink module.

6. References:

Hydrographic Service, 1997, Australian National Tide Tables 1998, Royal Australian Navy Hydrographic Service, Wollongong, 372 pp.

Short, A D, 1993, Beaches of the New South Wales Coast. Australian Beach Safety and Management Program, Sydney, 358 pp.

Short, A D, 1996, Beaches of the Victorian Coast and Port Phillip Bay. Australian Beach Safety and Management Program, Sydney, 298 pp.

Short, A D, in press, Beaches of the Queensland Coast: Cooktown to Coolangatta. Australian Beach Safety and Management Program, Sydney.


Appendix 1 Data tables, their variables (fields), description and sources

Beach Table
FIELDS DESCRIPTION Map Photo Site Publ
Key Unique beach identification number x x    
Beach The name of the Beach x x    
Length_m The length of the beach in metres x x    
Mean_Width The mean width of the beach in meters x x    
Orientation The orientation of the beach in degrees. ie: the direction the beach faces. x x    
Embaymentisation The chord of the beach divided by the arc. Shows how exposed the beach is. x x    
Headland_North Is there a headland bounding the north of the beach? Yes/No x x    
Headland_South Is there a headland bounding the south of the beach? Yes/No x x    
Shore_Platform_Nth Is there a rock platform to the north of the beach? Yes/No.   x x  
Shore_Platform_Sth Is there a rock platform to the south of the beach? Yes/No.   x x  
Rocks_North Are there rocks in the surf zone to the north ?   x x  
Rocks_Center Are there rocks in the surf zone in the centre of the beach ?   x x  
Rocks_South Are there rocks in the surf zone to the south ?   x x  
Reefs_North Are there reefs in the surf zone to the north ?   x x  
Reefs_Center Are there reefs in the surf zone in the centre of the beach?   x x  
Reefs_South Are there reefs in the surf zone to the south ?   x x  
Coral Reefs Are there coral reefs in the surf zone of the beach?   x x  
Mangroves Are there mangroves at the beach?   x x  
Drainage_Key The Key No of any drainage record applicable to this beach x   x  
Barrier_Key The Key No of any barrier record applicable to this beach x      
Other_Features Any other geographical features relevant to this beach. x x x  

Surf Zone Table
FIELDS DESCRIPTION Map Photo Site Publ
Key Unique beach identification number x x    
Beach The name of the Beach x      
Swash_Gradient The gradient of the beach near the swash zone in degrees.     x  
Surfzone_Width (HT & LT) The width of the surfzone (at both high and low tide for tide dominated beaches).   x x  
Intertidal Width The width of the intertidal zone on tide dominated beaches.   x x  
Sand Flats Are there sand flats at this beach?   x    
Sand Ridges The number of ridges occurring on the sand flats, if present.   x    
Mean_Bars The mean number of sandbars which form along the beach   x x  
North_Inner_BS The inner beach state which forms to the north of the beach   x x  
SD_Nth_I_BS The standard deviation of the northern inner beach state   x x  
North_Outer_BS The outer beach state which forms to the north of the beach   x x  
SD_Nth_O_BS The standard deviation of the northern outer beach state   x x  
South_Inner_BS The inner beach state which forms to the south of the beach   x x  
SD_Sth_I_BS The standard deviation of the southern inner beach state   x x  
South_Outer_BS The outer beach state which forms to the south of the beach   x x  
SD_Sth_O_BS The standard deviation of the southern outer beach state   x x  
Mean_Rip_Spacing The mean spacing between rips in meters   x x  
SD_Rips The standard deviation of the number of rips which form along the beach   x x  
Topographic_Rips The number of topographic rips which form along the beach   x x  
Mean_Hb The mean breaker wave height at the beach     x x
Mean_Ts The mean wave period at the beach     x x
Dom_Swell_Dir The dominant swell direction to the coastline where the beach occurs.     x x
Tide_Station The closest tide station to this beach.       x
Neap_Tidal_Range The Neap Tidal range at this beach       x
Spring_Tidal_Range The spring tidal range at this beach.       x

Sediment Table
FIELDS DESCRIPTION Map Photo Site Lab.
Key Unique beach identification number x x    
Beach The name of the Beach x      
SW_Sediment_Type The type of swash sediment ie: silt, sand, cobble, boulder, etc.     x x
Mode_1_mm The mode of the sediment.       x
Mode_2_mm The second mode of the sediment if applicable.       x
Mode_3_mm The third mode of the sediment if applicable.       x
SW_Mean_Grain_Size The mean swash grain size       x
Sorting_mm The sorting of the sediment.       x
Skewness The skewness of the sediment       x
Kurtosis The kurtosis of the sediment       x
SW_Fall_Vel_ms The mean dimensionless fall velocity of the sediment       x
Carbonate_Percent The fraction of carbonate in the sediment       x
Comments Comments on the sediment form this beach        

Barrier Table
FIELDS DESCRIPTION Map Photo Site Publ
Barrier_Key Unique barrier identification number x      
Barrier_Name The name of the Barrier x      
Holocene Is this a Holocene Barrier ?   x x  
Pleistocene Is this a Pleistocene Barrier ?   x x  
Orientation The orientation of the barrier in degrees. ie: the direction the barrier faces. x      
Barrier_Width_Min_m The minimum width of the barrier in meters x      
Barrier_Width_Max_m The maximum width of the barrier in meters x      
Barrier_Length_m The length of the barrier in meters x      
Total_Area_ha The area of the barrier in hectares x      
Stable_Area_ha The area of the stable part of the barrier in ha.   x    
Semi_Stable_Area_ha The area of the semi stable part of the barrier in ha.   x    
Unstable_Area_ha The area of the unstable part of the barrier in hectares   x    
Barrier_Height_Mean_m The mean height of the barrier x      
Barrier_Height_Max_m The maximum height of the barrier x      
Back_Barrier_Type Type of back barrier x x    
Barrier_Comments Comments about the barrier; type, description etc.        

Drainage Table
FIELDS DESCRIPTION Map Photo Site Publ
Drainage_Key Unique Drainage System identification number x x    
Drainage_Name The name of the drainage system ? x      
Location Is drainage system located at north end, south end or in centre of beach? x x    
Creek_or_Stream Is the drainage system a creek or stream ? Yes/No x x    
River Is the drainage system a river ? Yes/No x      
Other Is there some other kind of drainage system? x      
Inlet_Name Is the drainage system an inlet ? x      
Usually_Closed Is the inlet usually closed? Yes/No   x x  
Open_Closed Does the inlet vary between open and closed? Yes/No   x x  
Open Is the inlet always open? Yes/No   x x  
Trained Is the inlet trained? Yes/No x x    
Lagoon_Name Is there a lagoon behind the beach? x      
Lagoon_Area Area of the lagoon behind the beach x x    
Headland Does the drainage system run out along a headland? Yes/No x x    
Comments Comments on the drainage system        

Safety Table
FIELDS DESCRIPTION Map Photo Site Publ
Key Unique beach identification number x x    
Beach The name of the Beach x      
Modal_Hb Modal breaker wave height for the beach in meters     x x
Beach_State The modal Beach State for the beach   x x  
Topo_Rip Are there topographic rips at this beach ? Yes/No   x x  
Protected_End Is an end of this beach protected from the swell ? Yes/No x x    
Protected_End_Location Which end of the beach is protected from the swell? x x    
Inlet Is there an inlet at this beach ? Yes/No x      
Inlet_Location At which end of the beach is the inlet located? x      
Physical_Rating The physical Safety Rating (0 = safest, 10 = least safe)       x
Headlands Are there headland(s) at this beach ? Yes/No x x    
Rocks Are there rocks in the surf zone ? Yes/No x x    
Reefs Are there reefs in the surf zone ? x x x  
Structures Are there structures in the surf zone x x x  
Outfalls Are there outfalls at this beach       x
Tide_Range Is the tidal range a hazard at this beach       x
Water_Temp Is water temperature a hazard at this beach     x  
Off_Shore_Winds Are offshore winds a hazard at this beach       x
Sharks Are sharks a hazard at this beach       x
Bluebottles Are Bluebottles a hazard at this beach       x
Stingers Are stingers a hazard at this beach     x x
Crocodiles Are Crocodiles a hazard at this beach       x
Hazard_Rating (HT)Hazard_Rating (LT) The overall safety rating including geographical, biological and man-made hazards - at high and low tide for tide-dominated beaches. (0 = safest, 10 = least safe)       x
Comments Comments on the safety of this beach