GEOS3731 – Coastal Geomorphology

Life’s a beach right? Well, it is in Australia which has arguably the best beaches in the world. Not only are they prime destinations for tourists, but with over 80% of Australians living along the coast, they are fundamental to our lifestyle and economy. This course is about those beaches….and more.

GEOS3731 Coastal Geomorphology focusses on the processes that shape our coastlines, primarily beaches and dunes, and how these coastal environments change over time. However, while it’s important to have a solid understanding of the wave, current and sediment transport processes that drive beach and dune behavior, it’s equally important to understand the nature of coastal hazards and management issues occurring not only in Australia, but around the world. Given the rapid growth in coastal related management, consulting, and engineering fields, it is also important to understand how to measure and monitor coastal environments. This course provides a solid background of both basic and applied science skills that will help prepare you for real world applications or research careers in coastal science.

This course will be of interest to any upper level student who is interested in coastal processes and beaches, particularly those with a science background. The content and skills gained in the course are relevant to the broad fields of Coastal Science, Geomorphology, Management and Engineering.


GEOS 3731 is offered in T1 2019

The course is worth 6 units of credit. For more information, check out the links below:

Current handbook entry Current timetable 2015 Course outline

 Who should I contact?

The Course Convener for GEOS3731 is Associate Professor Rob Brander ( He runs the majority of lectures and labs as well as the field trip. There are several guest lectures during the course.

Rob Brander is an internationally recognised coastal scientist with a research focus on rip currents and beach safety. His high media profile and efforts at science communication has resulted in the nickname ‘Dr Rip’ and an Australian Eureka Science Prize for Promoting Understanding of Science. To find out a little bit more about what he does, follow his Facebook Page ‘Dr Rip’s Science of the Surf’, or watch the following YouTube videos:

‘How to Survive Beach Rip Currents’


‘How do waves break’

 A/Prof Brander is trained in physical geography and coastal geomorphology and is passionate about teaching. He draws upon his extensive research experience around the world to introduce students to coastal processes and hazards.

What does this course cover?

GEOS3731 examines the key processes of waves, currents and sediment transport in the context of morphodynamic shoreline and beach response over a range of spatial and temporal scales. Key coastal hazard and management issues are examined with a primary focus on beaches and sand dunes. A key theme of the course involves an introduction to how we monitor beaches and surf zones, both remotely and through direct field measurements. Although the course is global in relevance, the focus will be on Australian beach systems. Students will learn a range of practical skills both during practical exercises and during the field trip. State of the art datasets are also used to help students gain valuable computing skills.

The aims of the course are to: i) provide you with an understanding of fundamental coastal morphodynamic principles associated with process-form relationships; ii) relate these principles to applied physical coastal management issues; and iii) introduce you to a range of field monitoring techniques.

Major Topics Covered:

  1. Coastal morphodynamics
  2. Coastal evolution and shoreline change
  3. Beach morphology and types
  4. Coastal dunes and barriers
  5. Surf zone waves and currents
  6. Coastal hazards and management
  7. Coastal field monitoring and measurement

The following YouTube videos provide a snapshot into some of the content of the course:

‘Rip Current Time lapse’

‘A Year at Bondi Beach’


Winda Woppa spit from 2013 (left) and 2015 (right) Field Trips.

Where does this course fit into my degree?

GEOS3731 is a Stage 3 course and is designed to be accessible to all upper level students. It contributes to the Geography (GEOGG13970) and Marine Science (MSCIM13970) Majors in Science, and the Physical Geography (GEOGT13962) and Marine and Coastal Science (MSCIS13962) Majors in Advanced Science. The course is also highly relevant to Environmental and Coastal Engineers and is popular with Study Abroad and International Exchange students.

Key learning goals and outcomes of the course include:

  • Fundamental knowledge of coastal processes and their relevance to contemporary coastal management issues;
  • Critical thinking and problem solving skills using real data;
  • Written and oral communication;
  • Team/group work and dynamics;
  • An appreciation of a variety of coastal monitoring techniques;
  • Practical skills involving data analysis, computing and fieldwork; and
  • Ability to evaluate the role of human interactions and management strategies on shorelines.

Is there assumed prior knowledge or a co-requisite?

Although this is a Stage 3 course, there are no pre-requisites although the following courses at UNSW provide good preparation for the content and skills in this course:

If you are from another university, any physical geography, geosciences, earth sciences or geomorphology course will provide excellent preparation.

Are there mandatory activities for this course?

An attendance of at least 80% of the practicals is required to pass the course. Practicals are where you get to really interact with other students and staff and mostly involve assessments so you need to attend them.

The 3 day field trip to the mid-north coast region of NSW (staying at the UNSW Smiths Lake Field Station) is optional, but always rates highly with students. There is a cost of approximately $200 which covers transport, accommodation and food.

Lectures are not compulsory, but if you miss them, you are really missing out on an experience.

Is there anything else I should know?

There is a final exam for the course that will be scheduled during the exam period.

GEOS 3731 has always been a very popular course with students, and has rated highly in all official course student course evaluations. You are welcome to view previous evaluations:

Course Evaluations  Student Comments

The word cloud below is generated from student comments from the course evaluation about what they liked about the course.

NB: All information provided on this page is superseded by information provided by the course coordinator or lecturer(s).