• alongshore sediment transport;
  • beach morphology;
  • coastline instability;
  • high angle waves;
  • shoreline evolution;
  • shoreline sand waves

[1] The hypothesis that the formation and dynamics of large scale shoreline sand waves can be explained by a feedback mechanism between waves and nearshore morphology under very oblique wave incidence is explored with a quasi 2D nonlinear morphodynamic model. Using constant wave conditions it is found that if the wave incidence angle at the depth of closure is larger than about 45° the rectilinear coastline becomes unstable and a shoreline sand wavefield develops from small random perturbations. Shoreline sand waves develop with wavelengths between 2 and 5 km, they migrate downdrift at about 0.5 km/yr and they reach amplitudes up to 120 m within 13 years. Larger wave obliquity, higher waves and shorter wave periods strengthen the shoreline instability. Cross-shore transport is essential for the instability and faster cross-shore dynamics leads to a faster growth of the sand waves. Simulations with variable wave incidence angles (alternating between 60° and 30°) show that a large proportion of high angle waves is required for spontaneous sand wave formation (at least 80%). Insight is provided into the physical mechanism behind high angle wave instability and the occurrence of a optimal length scale for sand wave growth. The generic model results are consistent with existing observations of shoreline sand waves, in particular with those along the southwest coast of Africa.