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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-2019-96
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-2019-96
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 13 May 2019

Research article | 13 May 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript is under review for the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences (NHESS).

Environmental controls on surf zone injuries on high-energy beaches

Bruno Castelle1,2, Tim Scott3, Rob Brander4, Jak McCarroll3, Arthur Robinet5, Eric Tellier6,7,8, Elias de Korte9, Bruno Simonnet8, and Louis-Rachid Salmi6,7,10 Bruno Castelle et al.
  • 1CNRS, UMR EPOC, Univ. Bordeaux, Pessac, France
  • 2Univ. Bordeaux, UMR EPOC, Pessac, France
  • 3Coastal Processes Research Group, School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK
  • 4School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW Sydney, Australia
  • 5Bureau de Recherche en Géologie Minière, Orléans, France
  • 6INSERM, ISPED, Centre INSERM U1219 Bordeaux population health research, Bordeaux
  • 7Univ. Bordeaux, ISPED, Centre INSERM U1219 Bordeaux population health research, Bordeaux, France
  • 8CHU de Bordeaux, Pôle Urgences adultes, SAMU-SMUR, Bordeaux, France
  • 9Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, Department of Physical Geography, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands
  • 10CHU de Bordeaux, Pôle de Santé publique, Service d’information médicale, Bordeaux, France

Abstract. The two primary causes of surf zone injuries (SZIs) worldwide, including fatal drowning and severe spinal injuries, are rip currents (rips) and shore-break waves. SZIs also result from surfing and body boarding activity. In this paper we address the primary environmental controls on SZIs along the high-energy meso-macrotidal surf beach coast of SW France. A total of 2523 SZIs recorded by lifeguards over 186 sample days during the summers of 2007, 2009 and 2015 were combined with measured and/or hindcast weather, wave, tide and beach morphology data. All SZIs occurred disproportionately on warm sunny days with low wind likely because of increased beachgoer numbers and hazard exposure. Relationships were strongest for shore break and rip related SZIs and weakest for surfing related SZIs, the latter being also unaffected by tidal stage or range. Therefore the analysis focussed on bathers. Shore-break related SZIs disproportionately occur during shore-normal incident waves with average to below-average wave height (significant wave height Hs = 0.75–1.5 m) and around higher water levels and large tide range when waves break on the steepest section of the beach. In contrast, rip related drownings occur disproportionally near neap low tide, coinciding with maximized channel rip flow activity, under shore-normal incident waves with Hs > 1.25 m and periods mean wave period longer than 5 s. Additional drowning incidents occurred at spring high tide, presumably due to small-scale swash rips. The composite wave and tide parameters proposed by Scott et al. (2014) are key controlling factors determining SZI occurrence, although the risk ranges are not necessarily transferable to all sites. Summer beach and surf zone morphology is highly interannually variable, which is critical to SZI patterns. The upper beach slope can vary from 0.06 to 0.18 between summers, resulting in low and high shore-break related SZIs, respectively. Summers with coast-wide highly (weakly) developed rip channels also result in widespread (scarce) rip related drowning incidents. With life risk defined in terms of the number of people exposed to life threatening hazards at a beach, the ability of morphodynamic models to simulate primary beach morphology characteristics a few weeks/months in advance is therefore of paramount importance to predict the primary surf-zone life risks along this coast.

Bruno Castelle et al.
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Short summary
For the first time we explore the influence of environmental conditions (wave and weather conditions, tide elevation, beach morphology) on surf zone injuries (e.g. drowning incident, spine injuries). Serious injuries are caused by the two primary hazards found along high-energy surf beaches: shore-break waves and narrow seaward flowing rip currents, which have different environmental controls. Results have strong implications towards future beach safety management and education of beach users.
For the first time we explore the influence of environmental conditions (wave and weather...
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