Introduction

Background  |  What the Smartline is   |  Why and how the Smartline Coastal Geomorphic Map of Australia was created   |  How the Smartline map is structured and classified   |  What Information can be accessed via the Smartline map window on this website   |  Sample Query-building exercise for Smartline Geomorphic search (Advance)   |  Data Quality and Completeness

Background

This module provides detailed coastal landform and landform stability mapping for the entire continental Australian open coastline (including many large islands), using a line map format for which the project team coined the term 'Smartline'.

The information provided in these Introduction notes (below) briefly describes the format, classification and other background details about the Smartline. More detailed information is available from the reports which can be downloaded from the Reports and Data.

For practical guidance on viewing, navigating and querying the Smartline mapping on this website, see the Smartline Help notes in the Smartline Maps Windows accessible from the Smartline Maps sidebar link. Further guidance to querying the Smartline for specific information may be found under the Sample Query-building Exercise.

What the Smartline is

The Smartline Coastal Geomorphic Map of Australia is a detailed map of the coastal landform types – or 'geomorphology – of continental Australia and most adjacent islands (excluding the Great Barrier Reef). As a 'geomorphic' map, it represents not just the topography of the coast – the planform, elevation and shape of the coastal landforms which a contour map or digital elevation model may represent - but it also indicates what the differing coastal landforms are made of – varying rock types, laterite, coral, sand, mud, laterite, boulders, beachrock, and so on. The map classifies coastal landforms into differing combinations of form (generalised shape) and constituents (or fabric) which in turn are indicative of the differing natural processes by which each coastal landform has developed.

The Smartline represents this information in the form of a single line map representing the coastline, which is split into segments where-ever the coastal landform types change. Each distinctive segment is tagged or attributed with multiple attribute fields (data records) describing the landform types of that segment of the coast. The coastal characteristics recorded refer not only to those at the precise location of the line itself (typically High Water Mark), but to a coastal zone nominally extending up 500m inland and offshore of the HWM itself. The line can be divided into long or short segments representing different coastal landforms, allowing the Smartline to record alongshore variations in coastal type to a high degree of detail. See How the Smartline map is structured and classified below for further explanation.

Whereas most landform mapping uses 'polygon' mapping, a line map format has been chosen for this work because it offers a number of efficiencies which outweigh its drawbacks when applied to an essentially linear feature such as a coastline or coastal zone. It is relatively easy to attribute the line map with information from a wide diversity of sources, and the format can be easily queried and analysed using GIS software to provide information as required.

The coastal landform stability classes displayed by the Smartline Maps 'Coastal Landform Stability Class search' are one example of the sort of information that can be derived by querying the basic geomorphic attributes (see 'Stability Classes' description under How the Smartline map is structured and classified below).

The Smartline format additionally provides a convenient map framework to which a wide range of other environmental, social or economic information relating to the coast can be attached. For example, the extensive ABSAMP database of information on all Australian beaches has been linked to the Smartline map via a common beach number field, so that using the Information tool to click on a beach in the Smartline Maps field will bring up a window listing the ABSAMP data for that beach, as well as the Smartline geomorphic fields for the same beach

The Smartline is obviously not the most appropriate map format for all coast-related purposes, and there are many applications for which polygon or topographic mapping such as digital elevation models are essential. For example, whilst the Smartline can indicate potentially flood-prone coastal segments (via the Backshore profile attribute – see below), a contour map or digital elevation model is necessary to map out actual areas likely to be impacted by flooding. However, the Smartline is a particularly efficient format for gathering and analysing information for those purposes to which it is suited.

Back to top of page


Why and how the Smartline Coastal Geomorphic Map of Australia was created

The creation of the Smartline coastal geomorphic map of Australia was commissioned because it was recognised that assessing the vulnerability of Australia's coast to sea-level rise required, amongst other things, a detailed but national-scale map of coastal landform types, presented in a single nationally-consistent format & classification. Previous detailed coastal landform and geology information was available in the form of numerous maps in different formats, classifications and scales, but there was no one dataset providing detailed continuous and consistently-classified coastal geomorphic information for the entire Australian coastline. Analysis of several hundred differently-formatted and classified maps to assess coastal landform sensitivity at a national scale would have been a prohibitively complex task; it was recognised that a better approach was to first translate and combine pertinent geological and geomorphic data into a single national map. In so doing for the purposes of coastal sensitivity assessment, a national coastal geomorphic map has been created which is expected to provide a useful framework for a wide range of other coast – related research, management and recreational activities.

The Smartline map project was commissioned by the Department of Climate Change (formerly the Australian Greenhouse Office) and Geoscience Australia in 2007. The task of creating the Smartline map was undertaken by a team led by Chris Sharples and Richard Mount at the University of Tasmania (School of Geography and Environmental Studies, Spatial Science Group). Development of the Smartline coastal landform mapping and classification system refined a similar system previously used by Chris Sharples and Richard Mount to create a line-map of Tasmanian coastal landforms and coastal vulnerability for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Oil Spill Response Atlas and the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries & Water.

The creation of the Australian Smartline map did not involve new mapping work, instead the aim of the project was to extract relevant information from existing digital map datasets, and transfer this information to the Smartline by reclassifying the information into the nationally-consistent Smartline classification. This was done using a number of innovative geo-processing tools developed by the University of Tasmania project team, as described in the Project Report available from the Reports and Data. The Smartline attributes include feature-level metadata which record the source and scale of the original datasets from which the information for each attribute in each coastal segment was obtained. The sources and their scales for each geomorphic attribute field of each coastal segment are indicated by the 'scale' and 'ref' numbers shown against each attribute when line segments are queried with the Information Tool in any Smartline map window. The details of each numbered source are provided in the Smartline Data Sources List available from the Reports and Data.

Back to top of page


How the Smartline map is structured and classified

The following provides a very brief description of the format and classification of the coastal landform and stability information contained in the Smartline map. Rather more detailed explanations and discussions of the Smartline can be found in the linked reports available as PDF documents under the Associated Reports and Data.

Nationally-consistent coastal landform classification

The Smartline captures the enormous geodiversity of Australian coastal landforms within a simple descriptive geomorphic classification which has been applied uniformly to the entire Australian coast. The data from which the Smartline has been constructed comprised over 200 pre-existing maps and datasets, many compiled at different times, at different scales for different purposes, and using different classification systems. Pertinent landform data has been imported into the Smartline from all these sources, and reclassified into a single nationally-consistent classification. Thus the Smartline Map represents the first national dataset to provide coastal landform information in a consistent format for the entire national coast, and at a level of detail sufficiently good that features down to 50 metres or less long (such as small pocket beaches or short cliff-lines) can be individually distinguished.

Multiple attributes (data themes) attached to a GIS line representing the coast

Although the Smartline consists of a single GIS line representing the coastline (generally the High Water Mark line), that line is however tagged with multiple attributes that each provide information about different characteristics of the segment of coast to which they pertain, for example intertidal landform type, backshore landform type, bedrock geology, exposure and other characteristics. These attributes are described further below.

Segmented line – split where-ever any attribute changes

Because the various coastal landform attributes do not all necessarily start and end at the same points along a coast, the Smartline has been divided into distinctive segments at every point where any of the landform attributes change, as illustrated in Figure 1. This preserves the along-shore spatial detail captured by each attribute field.

The Smartline is segmented where-ever any one or more coastal attributes change, thereby allowing the full alongshore extent of all attributes to be recorded.

Figure 1. The Smartline is segmented where-ever any one or more coastal attributes change, thereby allowing the full alongshore extent of all attributes to be recorded.

Line map nominally represents HWM but attributes capture data about the whole coastal zone pertaining to each segment

Although the Smartline map is a single line representing the shore (generally a nominal High Water Mark line), the information captured by the Smartline attribute fields describe landform attributes pertaining to a coastal zone nominally extending up to 500 metres inland and offshore from the HWM line.

Coastal landform classification system based on simple form & fabric classes described in terms of shore-parallel tidally-defined landform zones

In the Smartline coastal landform classification, coastal geomorphology or landform type is fundamentally described in terms of 3 shore-parallel, tidally-defined zones, namely the subtidal, intertidal, and backshore zones as illustrated in Figure 2. Within each of these zones, two attribute fields are used to describe the landform types present, plus an additional attribute describes the overall slope or profile of the zone. Several other attributes capture further data pertaining to each coastal segment, namely bedrock 'Geology' type and 'Exposure' to swell wave energy. Each of the attribute fields is described further below under Primary Smartline coastal landform classification & description attribute fields.

The landforms of the coastal zone are described in terms of the landform types found in three shore-parallel tidally-defined zones as indicated in this figure. Landforms within each of these zones are described using two descriptive attribute fields plus another field describing the overall zone profile or slope.

Figure 2. The landforms of the coastal zone are described in terms of the landform types found in three shore-parallel tidally-defined zones as indicated in this figure. Landforms within each of these zones are described using two descriptive attribute fields plus another field describing the overall zone profile or slope.

Within these zones, landform types are classified in the Smartline descriptive attribute fields primarily by form (generalised shape such as platform, moderate slope, vertical face, etc) and fabric (what they are made of, e.g., sand, mud, hard rock, etc), using simple, broad yet meaningful classes such as those noted here. A 'descriptive modifier' is also commonly applied to name these form-fabric classes, for example common landform terms such as “beach”, cliff”, platform”, “tidal flats” etc. In the Smartline attribute table, landform classes are recorded in both a verbal description field (which is humanly readable and easy to create map legends with) and in an equivalent numerical code field (which is easier to use for many data analysis purposes).

Although the descriptive modifier terms used in the Smartline classification may at a basic level imply the processes which formed the feature being classified (e.g., 'beach' implies a wave-deposited body of sediment), this is not the primary intention of the Smartline landform classification. Rather, the Smartline landform classification is primarily intended to be a descriptive classification which simply describes what they are (their form and fabric) without implying an interpretation of the processes which formed them. This approach has been taken because, firstly, it is arguably the most fundamental level of landform classification, which is thus appropriate to a fundamental national-scale dataset such as the Smartline coastal map; and secondly because the origins of many Australian coastal landforms are not necessarily fully understood anyway, so that if the map classification were primarily a 'genetic' classification, it would contain many 'unknown' types. In contrast, classifying all Australian landforms simply by their form and fabric is a much more achievable goal. In practice, where a comprehensive genetic or morpho-dynamic classification of Australian coastal landforms exists, this information can be easily attached to the Smartline as an additional attribute field. For example, whereas the Smartline classifies beaches mainly by their fabric (sand, pebbles, cobbles, boulder beaches, etc), the linked ABSAMP Database does in fact provide a morpho-dynamic classification for each beach (e.g., 'Reflective', 'Dissipative', etc).

Back to top of page


Primary Smartline coastal landform classification & description attribute fields

The primary Smartline attribute fields used to classify and describe coastal landforms within a framework of three tidally-defined shore parallel zones are briefly described below. These fields can be individually displayed in the Smartline Maps 'Geomorphic Search (Simple)' option, or can be queried to find combinations of attributes in the 'Geomorphic Search (Advanced)' option. Each of these fields is recorded as a verbal field and an equivalent numerical code field, and is associated with metadata fields indicating the data sources (and their scales) from which the landform data was derived.

Considerably more detailed explanations, descriptions and attribute tables ('lookup tables') can be found in the Manual & Data Dictionary which can be downloaded from the Reports and Data. Figure 3 (A-F) below illustrates how an enormous (geo)diversity of coastal landform types and assemblages can be described and classified using these simple attribute fields.

Backshore Proximal

The first distinctive landform type immediately inland of the upper limits of normal high tide wave wash (i.e., may include 'supratidal' landforms). This attribute is intended to capture the way in which coasts are commonly characterised by a distinctively coastal landform developed immediately above the high tide line, e.g., a foredune or a rising sea-cliff.

Backshore Distal

The dominant landform type in the backshore zone extending 500 metres inland of the upper limits of normal high tide wave wash (i.e., may include 'supratidal' landforms). The backshore distal landform type may be a continuation of the proximal type (e.g., a dune-field extending inland behind a foredune) or something quite different (e.g., terrestrial rocky slopes behind a single coastal foredune).

Backshore Profile

The averaged topographic gradient of the backshore zone to 500 metres inland of the HWM, ignoring high foredunes, and categorised into only a few broad classes representing significant differences in backshore landform histories and processes. (e.g., low-lying plains, gently sloping terrain, moderately to steeply sloping terrain, high coastal cliff terrain).

Intertidal 1

The dominant, primary or uppermost significant landform type or component in the Intertidal Zone between High Water Mark & Low Water Mark (this attribute is only null if no information is available for the intertidal zone of the coastal segment in question).

Intertidal 2

The sub-ordinate, secondary or lowermost significant landform type or component in the Intertidal Zone between High Water Mark & Low Water Mark (this attribute may be null if Intertidal 1 adequately describes the intertidal Zone).

Intertidal Slope

The overall (generalised or averaged) slope of the intertidal zone between High and Low Water Mark, categorised into only a few simple categories highlighting significantly different intertidal environments (e.g., tidal flats, sloping beaches, steep shores, cliffs).

Subtidal 1

The dominant, primary or uppermost significant landform type or component in the Subtidal Zone below low water mark (this attribute is only null if no information is available for the subtidal zone of the coastal segment in question).

Subtidal 2

The sub-ordinate, secondary or deeper significant landform type or component in the Subtidal Zone below low water mark (this attribute may be null if Subtidal 1 adequately describes the subtidal zone).

Geology 1

The bedrock type underlying or exposed on the shore. Where more than one bedrock association is present, Geology1 is the underlying type exposed in or underlying the subtidal and intertidal zones. Geology types are classified not by age or stratigraphic unit (as is common in geological maps), but by lithology (rock type) and structure (deformation or fracturing), since it is these characteristics (more than age, etc) which most strongly determine how the bedrock influences coastal landform development (this attribute is only null if no information is available for the coastal segment in question; NOTE that Geology1 may be specified even where no rocks outcrop (e.g., a sandy beach shore) if the underlying rock type can be reasonably inferred).

Geology 2

Where a different bedrock association or type occurs in the backshore zone overlying another Geology1 type in the intertidal and subtidal zones, then Geology2 is used to describe the overlying bedrock type. Common examples occur where hard aeolian calcarenite (Geology2) overlies older basement rocks such as granite exposed in the intertidal zone (Geology1), or where laterites (Geology2) formed by weathering of bedrock crop out in the backshore zone, over fresher underlying bedrock exposed in the intertidal or subtidal zone (Geology1). See example in Figure 3F below. However where aeolian calcarenites or laterites extend to below sea level, these would simply be classified using the Geology1 attribute only (i.e., Geology2 may be null if Geology1 adequately describes the bedrock types underlying all of the sub-tidal, intertidal and backshore zones).

Exposure

The Exposure attribute classifies shoreline segments into four broad categories according to the degree to which they are exposed to (open ocean) swell wave energies. Note that this attribute is not a measure of wave energy received by a shoreline segment, it is merely a measure of the degree to which the shore is exposed to whatever greater or lesser swell wave energies may reach that coastal region. Thus, coastal re-entrants including tidal lagoons and estuaries may have Very Low exposure (to ocean swell waves), yet receive considerable locally-generated wind wave energies.

Six examples of how the two landform type attributes defined for each of three tidally-defined shore-parallel coastal landform zones, together with the Geology attributes, can uniquely characterise an enormous range of coastal landform types and assemblages using a simple consistent landform classification.  Note that several other attributes used in the Smartline are not shown in these figures (exposure, backshore profile and intertidal slope).

Six examples of how the two landform type attributes defined for each of three tidally-defined shore-parallel coastal landform zones, together with the Geology attributes, can uniquely characterise an enormous range of coastal landform types and assemblages using a simple consistent landform classification.  Note that several other attributes used in the Smartline are not shown in these figures (exposure, backshore profile and intertidal slope).

Figure 3 (A – F). Six examples of how the two landform type attributes defined for each of three tidally-defined shore-parallel coastal landform zones, together with the Geology attributes, can uniquely characterise an enormous range of coastal landform types and assemblages using a simple consistent landform classification. Note that several other attributes used in the Smartline are not shown in these figures (exposure, backshore profile and intertidal slope).

Each landform attribute field within the Smartline can be displayed as a separate line map, or specific combinations of attributes can be displayed.  This example shows four 'basic' geomorphic attribute fields displayed as separate line maps, and also shows a coastal landform stability class line map (RHS) which comprises coastal landform types corresponding to pre-defined combinations of the basic geomorphic attribute fields.  In the 'Smartline Maps' window, the 'Smartline Geomorphic Search (Simple)' can be used to display individual attribute fields one at a time (as per the four LH maps in this figure), the 'Coastal Landform Stability Class Search' can be used to display the pre-defined attribute combinations representing coastal landform stability types (as per the RHS map in this figure), and the 'Smartline Geomorphic Search (Advanced)' can be used to display shoreline segments corresponding to any user-defined combinations of the basic geomorphic attributes.  In practice, most users will find that the stability class themes provide the simplest and most useful classification of coastal landform types for a wide range of purposes.

Figure 4. Each landform attribute field within the Smartline can be displayed as a separate line map, or specific combinations of attributes can be displayed. This example shows four 'basic' geomorphic attribute fields displayed as separate line maps, and also shows a coastal landform stability class line map (RHS) which comprises coastal landform types corresponding to pre-defined combinations of the basic geomorphic attribute fields. In the 'Smartline Maps' window, the 'Smartline Geomorphic Search (Simple)' can be used to display individual attribute fields one at a time (as per the four LH maps in this figure), the 'Coastal Landform Stability Class Search' can be used to display the pre-defined attribute combinations representing coastal landform stability types (as per the RHS map in this figure), and the 'Smartline Geomorphic Search (Advanced)' can be used to display shoreline segments corresponding to any user-defined combinations of the basic geomorphic attributes. In practice, most users will find that the stability class themes provide the simplest and most useful classification of coastal landform types for a wide range of purposes.

Back to top of page


Derived Coastal Landform Stability Classes

The primary coastal landform descriptive and classification attributes (as described above) have been used to further classify Australian coasts into “Stability Classes”, each of which is characterised by particular landform types or groupings which have potential to physically respond to sea-level rise and other coastal processes in distinctive ways (including differing styles of erosion, accretion or stability). NOTE however that the stability classes do not identify shores potentially sensitive to flooding, which is a related but distinct coastal hazard.

These classes have been derived from the primary geomorphic attributes (described above), using GIS queries to select coastal segments having the particular combination of geomorphic characteristics that identify them as belonging to particular stability classes (see example on Figure 4). That is, the stability classes are not a primary geomorphic dataset, but one derived by querying and analysis of the primary geomorphic data. The main stability classes defined in this way are listed and briefly described below.

The stability classes have been defined in a way appropriate to a “first pass” national-scale coastal stability assessment. That is, the stability classes identify coasts that are potentially susceptible to various distinctive styles of instability, based on their geomorphic (landform) characteristics. However, the stability classes do not attempt to predict the rates or degrees of instability likely to affect particular potentially unstable shores; doing so requires additional data on the varying exposure of potentially unstable shores to the (mainly oceanic) processes which drive coastal instability, including wave climate, sea-level rise, tidal range and currents, and storm climate. Integrating the mapping of (geomorphically-based) coastal landform stability classes with information on the regional variability in these drivers of coastal change is seen as the next logical stage in national-scale coastal vulnerability assessment.

The Coastal Landform Stability Classes have been defined on the basis of the following characteristics, which are for these purposes regarded as the most fundamental or 'first-order' characteristics determining a coasts potential physical response to coastal processes including sea-level rise:

  • Fabric – What the landform is made of (ranging from hard to soft rock to unlithified sediments of varying grainsizes). Fabric is here regarded as the primary determinant of potential coastal landform stability, and defines the broad stability classes at their broadest level.
  • Form - Basic distinctions ranging from flat through sloping to vertical or cliffed landforms play a major role in determining how coastal landforms respond to change-driving processes such as waves.
  • 'Coastal setting' - This is considered to be a major factor controlling coastal stability for soft-sediment stability themes. The 'coastal setting' refers to whether the shoreline is located on the open coast or within a coastal re-entrant ('inlet'), and is important in defining a first-order distinction in the types (but not necessarily magnitudes) of processes to which a shoreline will be exposed (e.g., exposure to swell waves on open coasts vs exposure to the differing effects of tidal currents and local wind waves in tidal lagoons or estuaries).
  • 'Geomorphic Setting' - For soft-sediment stability themes, this is a first-order fabric distinction determining potential susceptibility to coastal recession, namely whether shoreline landform is backed by bedrock or by soft – sediment. This is the basic factor determining whether or not a shore has the potential to recede significant distances to landwards in response to coastal erosion. However in the case of the 'Dunes' stability theme, the “geomorphic setting” refers to whether the dunes are exposed to wave action on the seawards side or not; this differentiates between dunes susceptible to mobilisation triggered by storm wave erosion, and those (such as cliff-top dunes) whose mobility depends on factors other than wave erosion (e.g., wind speed vs precipitation).

Based on these characteristics, the following is a brief listing of the main stability classes into which the Australian coast has been classified using the primary geomorphic information in the Smartline coastal landform map. Considerably more detailed information on these stability classes, and the rationales behind their definition and application, is provided in the Smartline Coastal Stability Classes Report which can be downloaded from the Reports and Data link.

Muddy Shores ('Muddy')

This class identifies shores having dominantly mud-grade (clay, silt) soft sediments in the intertidal zone. May include sandy muds and pebbly muds where mud fraction considered dominant. This theme includes many estuarine, deltaic and mangrove-dominated shores, comprising both narrow muddy shores and broad muddy intertidal flats. Sub-classes are defined according to form (narrow muddy shores, tidal flats), situation on open coasts or within coastal re-entrants, and whether backed by rising bedrock surfaces or low-lying sediment plains. In virtue of very fine sediment grainsizes (potentially easily eroded & transported), muddy shores have the potential to be very unstable and mobile. In general, soft muddy shores are likely to recede with sea-level rise; however responses may be complex and widely variable depending on local conditions. For example, if climate change results in greater catchment runoff & erosion – as is likely in parts of northern Australia – some muddy estuarine tidal flats may potentially accrete & prograded (grow) if increased river sediment supply exceeds the effects of sea-level rise (particularly where mangroves can cause sediment-trapping).

Sandy Shores ('Sandy')

This theme identifies shores dominated by sand-grade soft sediments in the intertidal zone. 'Sandy shores' may include mixed sand and shingle where sand is dominant. This theme includes sandy beaches or shores and sandy tidal flats. This fabric-defined stability theme is divided into a few major classes according to first-order fabric and form distinctions – namely location on open coast or coastal re-entrants & tidal inlets ('coastal setting'), and presence or absence of bedrock terrain backing the sandy shore above sea level ('geomorphic setting'). The transport (mobility) characteristics of sand-size particles not only make sandy shores the most abundant type of soft sediment shore on the Australian coast, but also cause them to exhibit distinctive erosion & accretion behaviour compared to other soft sediment shores. Because sandy shores are both easily eroded and also easily rebuilt by accretion processes, they can rapidly establish a dynamic equilibrium with changing coastal processes which may, for example, resulting in quickly alternating periods of erosion and progradation of the sandy shores where local conditions change cyclically, or alternatively may result in long periods of rapid progressive erosion if a major environmental variable such as sea level undergoes a long term change such as a progressive rise. This contrasts markedly with the behaviour of many other shoreline landform types, including finer or coarser sediment shores and erodible rock shores, many of which exhibit only uni-directional change (erosion) which merely varies in its rate as conditions change, or which respond in other distinctly different ways to sand shores. This theme classifies the stability of sandy shores in response to wave erosion, but does not identify potential associated dune instability, which may be partly or wholly caused by factors other than wave erosion. Coasts potentially sensitive to increased (or decreased) dune mobility are identified under the separate Dunes stability attribute (below).

Sand Dune & Beach Ridge Coasts ('Dunes')

This class identifies coasts with significant soft sand deposits in the backshore having some potential for instability resulting from wind exposure and erosion (i.e., dune mobility). Such sandy backshores may be prone to sand mobility triggered by wave erosion of dune fronts (e.g., under conditions of rising sea-level) and/or by changing climatic conditions (reduced precipitation and increased wind speeds causing increased instability in some regions), as well as by artificial disturbances. Note however that there is also potential for increased precipitation and decreased wind speeds to cause dune stabilisation where these climatic trends occur. This class includes aeolian sand-sheets, dunes, dune-fields or beach-ridges (soft sands either having some exposure to wind erosion and/or originally deposited by wind). This sensitivity is considered separately to sandy shore sensitivity to wave erosion and retreat, since whilst many dune fields occur behind sandy shores, some (stable or unstable) dune fields also occur behind stable hard rocky shores (e.g., cliff-top dunes). However since dune-fields isolated from the sea behind rocky or cliffed intertidal to proximal backshore zones are thereby protected from one potential trigger of dune mobility (wave attack), this distinction is also used as a classifier differentiating such less-exposed dunes from those which are exposed to wave attack in addition to other potential triggers of dune mobility (wind speed and precipitation changes, artificial disturbance, etc).

Coarse Sediment Shores ('Coarse Sediment')

This class identifies shores dominated by coarse-grade unconsolidated sediment in the intertidal zone. These may include (wave-deposited & wave-worked) shingle and boulder beaches, as well as dominantly talus (colluvial) shores (coarse mass movement-deposited material, generally little clast rounding due to wave action). This fabric-defined stability theme is divided into further major sub-classes, firstly by major fabric sub-types (colluvial vs. wave-deposited sediments), and then secondly by geomorphic settings (whether backed by bedrock or sediment). Predominantly colluvial (talus) shores are characteristically prone to ongoing slumping of coarse material, which in many cases is likely to accelerate with sea-level rise. The behaviour of wave-deposited coarse (shingle to boulder) sediment shores is not as well understood as sandy shores; overall coarse sediment shores show some cyclic cut-and-fill behaviour, and are likely to generally recede with sea-level rise, however in some circumstances coarse sediment may also armour shores, reducing rates of erosion and recession.

Undifferentiated Soft Sediment Shores ('Undif Sediment')

This class identifies shores having soft sediment of unknown type in the intertidal zone, and is divided into a few major classes by geomorphic and coastal settings as used for other sediment-based stability classes. The purpose of this classification is to allow identification of soft potentially unstable coasts in areas of poor geological and geomorphic mapping where the sediment type is unspecified. It is expected that any further stability assessment of such shores would include identification of the sediment type, resulting in these shores being reclassified under the appropriate specific stability theme.

"Soft Rock" Shores ('Soft Rock')

This stability class identifies coasts whose backshores are dominated by 'soft' bedrock types, which may be semi-lithified or inherently soft bedrock, strongly weathered bedrock or some other types of regolith. Examples include backshore "bedrock" landforms of clayey or gravelly semi-lithified Cainozoic-age sediment, soft limestone types, intensely fractured and deeply weathered volcanic rocks or lateritic duricrust profiles. “Soft Rock” shores can in many situations erode quite rapidly enough to place infrastructure within metres or tens of metres of the shore at significant risk within the foreseeable future. Moreover, unlike some soft sediment shores (especially sandy shores), 'soft rock' shores exhibit only uni-directional change (landwards erosion), which may vary in rate as coastal conditions change but can not reverse and commence accreting as may happen on sandy shores. Because of its progressive, irreversible and potentially rapid nature, the erosion of 'soft-rock' shores can be of just as much concern as the better-known sandy coast erosion processes.

Hard Rock Shores ('Hard Rock')

This class identifies shores dominated by hard lithified bedrock landforms exposed in the intertidal zone and present with or without soil mantles or aeolian sand veneers in the backshore zone. (Shores immediately backed by hard bedrock, but with only soft sediments actually exposed in the intertidal zone, will be classified under other soft sediment stability themes as 'bedrock-backed' variants.) This fabric- and form-defined stability theme includes - as separate subclasses - both mostly stable gently to moderately sloping hard rocky shores having minimal susceptibility to erosional retreat (or to storm surge flooding) within human time-scales, and also steep to cliffed hard rocky shores which may be undergoing progressive erosional retreat, and may be susceptible to ongoing rock-falls, slumping, and collapses, albeit generally at slower rates than soft-rock cliffs.

Undifferentiated Rock Shores ('Undifferentiated Rock')

This broad class identifies shores dominated by bedrock landforms in the intertidal and backshore zones, where the bedrock type ('soft' or 'hard') is unknown. The purpose of this classification is to allow identification of coasts known to be rocky but where poor geological and geomorphic mapping means the actual rock type is unspecified.

Coral Coasts ('Coral')

This class identifies coasts characterised by hard actively growing biogenic carbonate structures (coralgal reefs) and derived sediments. Living subtidal and intertidal coral communities and their structures are uniquely sensitive to a range of impacts that may not impact so notably on other (non-living) carbonate rock and sediment coastal landforms, including relict (dead) coral reef structures and associated sediments. Thus, coral coasts may be subject to instabilities resulting from changes in ocean temperatures and pH causing coral death & physical breakdown, in addition to the wave climate factors which drive instability in other coastal types.

Other intertidal and backshore landforms of coralline origin – but not directly associated with actively growing coralline structures in the intertidal or subtidal zones - are generally classified under other stability themes. Thus, coral rubble and coral-derived sand beaches are simply classified as "Coral rubble coarse soft sediment shores"and "Sandy Beaches", whilst intact uplifted coral reef structures which now form the backshore may be classified as "bedrock terrain" backshores where the bedrock type is "reefal coralline limestone".

No Stability Classification ('Unclassified')

This category identifies shores not classified into any stability classes. The most common cause of a shore not being assigned a stability classification is that key attribute fields are unclassified due to unavailability of the required data

What information can be accessed via the Smartline map window on this website

The Smartline maps provide four ways to access data encoded in the Smartline map, as listed below. Practical information on using each of these data search methods is provided in the Smartline Help/Instruction files linked to the search windows.

Note that there are some practical limits on how information can be searched for, but these limitations are normal for web-based map servers. Users needing to use the data in different ways or to undertake different analyses will need to obtain copies of the Smartline shapefiles themselves to work with using GIS software. (need instructions on how to apply for supply of shapefiles?)

1. Information Tool

This tool is available in any Smartline Maps search window ('Simple', 'Stability' or 'Advanced'), and is described in the Smartline Help / Instructions link in each Smartline Maps Window. By clicking on the Smartline coastal line map at any point, the primary geomorphic attributes for the line segment at that point on the coast can be read in a pop-up window, including the Data Source Reference ID numbers ('ref') and source data scale ('scale') for each attribute. Source information can be retrieved using the Reference ID number in conjunction with the Smartline Data Sources List available for download under the Associated Reports and Data.

If the line segment clicked on is a beach listed in the ABSAMP database, the pop-up window will additionally provide the beach number and a listing of the ABSAMP data for that beach. Further explanations of the ABSAMP beach data including the geomorphic beach type classification can be found in the ABSAMP Beach Help in the Smartline map windows, and in the ABSAMP publications listed in the ABSAMP link under the Reports and Data sidebar link.

2. Coastal Landform Stability Class Search

This map displays coastal landform types categorised into a number of simple classes – based on pre-defined combinations of attributes - which relate to their differing coastal sensitivity or stability. The stability classes displayed in the Stability Class Search window are described in Derived Coastal Landform Stability Classes above.

Many users will find that the Stability Class Search provides the most useful categorisation and map display of coastal landforms, even where coastal stability is not their primary interest.

3. Smartline Geomorphic Search (Simple)

This window displays broadly-categorised coastal landform types in terms of one user-selected landform attribute field (or 'theme') at a time. Users should note that this search only displays landforms in terms of their broadest fabric-based classifications within the chosen attribute field. Thus for example, when displaying the "Backshore proximal" attribute in a simple search, all coastal 'backshore proximal' zones are simply categorised according to their broadest fabric classes as 'lithic substrate' (i.e., rocky), 'sandy', 'muddy', etc, without distinguishing sub-types within these fabric classes. So for example 'lithic substrate' backshore proximal sub-classes may include cliffs and sloping bedrock backshores, but these are not differentiated in this simple search.

4. Smartline Geomorphic Search (Advanced)

This search allows the user to create a map of a single chosen type or combination of types of coastal landforms, based on selections from any one attribute field or a combination of attribute fields. The map highlights (in one line colour) coastal landform types corresponding to the union of any selection of one or more landform attribute classes chosen by the user. This allows a powerful search for a particular coastal landform type or combinations of types that are of interest. However in order to use this tool effectively it is necessary for the user to be familiar with the structure of the Smartline classification. Because this search tool allows the user to choose desired landform attributes from any level of the Smartline coastal landform classification, use of this tool will be more effective if users have familiarised themselves with the classification descriptions and lookup tables provided in the Manual and Data Dictionary available for download from the reports and data link. Additional assistance in using this tool is provided by the Sample Query-building Exercise below, and in the Smartline

Help/Instructions in the Smartline Geomorphic search (Advanced) in the Smartline maps window.

Sample Query-building Exercises for Smartline Geomorphic Search (Advanced)

The Smartline Geomorphic Search (Advanced) allows the user to create a map of a single chosen type or combination of types of coastal landforms or geologies, based on user-defined selections from any one attribute field (theme) or a combination of attribute fields. The following information and exercises provide instructions and examples of how the advanced search tool can be used. Use of this tool will be more effective if users have familiarised themselves with the classification descriptions and lookup tables provided in the Manual and Data Dictionary available for download from the Reports and Data sidebar link. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that there are limitations to the types of data analysis that can be conducted using a web-based map server such as this. Many types of more sophisticated analysis that can usefully be performed with this data require users to obtain the actual shapefiles and manipulate them on their own computer using appropriate GIS software.

Setup

In all cases, begin in the 'Smartline maps' window by selecting 'Smartline Geomorphic Search (Advanced)' from the Search drop-down list, then zooming into the area of interest using the zoom tool or selecting an option from the 'GoTo' tab on the 'Map Display Criteria Panel' to the Right Hand Side of the Map Panel. Any additional map reference or contextual layers required (e.g., topography) can be selected using the 'Layers' tab of the 'Map Display Criteria Panel'.

When the 'Query Criteria' tab on the 'Map Display Criteria Panel' is selected, the page should display the following three panels:

Map Panel: Top Left Hand Side of the page. A map window zoomed into the area of interest, with navigation and information tool buttons (as described in the Smartline Help/Instructions pop-up);

Search Criteria Selection Panel: Below the map panel (in the lower Left Hand Side of the page). This panel is used to select the features or landform classes to be displayed on the map. Feature types ('Search Criteria') to be displayed on the map can be selected using any one or more of the following four tabs:

Smartline Classes: Allows selection of specific landform classes actually used in the Smartline map from any of the landform (geomorphic) themes (attribute fields). Select 'Landform Theme' from drop-down list, select specific class within that theme using the 'Smartline Classes' drop-down list, then click 'Add' button to add selected landform class to 'Query Criteria' tab of 'Map Display Criteria Panel'. Repeat process for further classes if desired. Note you can use the 'Shift' and 'Control' keys to select multiple classes in a dropdown list.

Landform Classifiers: This tab allows a sophisticated search for landform classes selected at user-specified levels in the hierarchical Smartline Landform Classification, and for classes corresponding to the combination of several landform criteria. For any one of the landform themes, a landform class can be selected using drop-down lists of, firstly the available 'Fabric' classes within that theme, then the available 'Form' classes within the chosen 'Fabric' class, and finally the available 'Modifier' classes within the chosen Fabric-Form class. The user can limit the choice of criteria to only the highest level (i.e., choose a 'Fabric' class only, and all the Form and Modifier classes within that Fabric class will be included), or can narrow the criteria by additionally specifying Form and Modifier classes (in which case the criterion chosen narrowly specifies only the particular Fabric-Form-Modifier combination chosen).

A single landform criterion can be chosen in this way and added to the 'Map Display criteria Panel' by clicking the 'Add' button (followed by further selections if desired). However, it is also possible to specify a landform search criterion by specifying two or more landform theme classes as described above, before clicking the 'Add' button. In this case, the landform class criterion added to the 'Map Display Criteria Panel' will be those coastal segments having the COMBINATION of landform classes chosen (i.e., an 'AND' operation).

Note that the Classifiers displayed in the drop-down lists in this tab are limited to 40 characters, which in some cases causes truncation of the classifiers descriptions. Full versions of the classifiers can be consulted in the Data Dictionary available from the Reports and Data sidebar link.

Profile Slopes: Allows selection of a Backshore Profile or Intertidal Slope categories as Query Criteria. Selection proceeds as for 'Smartline Classes' tab above. Note you can use the 'Shift' and 'Control' keys to select multiple classes in a dropdown list.

Geology: This tab functions in the same way as the 'Landform Classifiers' tab above, allowing users to select bedrock geology types at any level in the hierarchical 'Lithology – Structure – Modifier' classification system used for bedrock geology in the Smartline classification system, and also to select bedrock criteria based on particular combinations of the 'Geology1' and 'Geology2' themes (see description of the Geology classification in the Data Dictionary available from the Reports and Data sidebar link).

Users can add one search criterion from any one of these tabs to the Map Display Criteria Panel (below), or alternatively can select multiple criteria, from one or more tabs, and sequentially add all these to the Map Display Criteria Panel.

Map Display Criteria Panel: To the Right Hand Side of the map panel. This panel displays the Smartline map display criteria on a 'Query Criteria' tab once they have been selected using the 'Search Criteria Selection Panel' (above). The tabs available on this panel are:

Query Criteria: This tab lists the Smartline map display criteria (features or landform types and classes) added to the query using the 'Search Criteria Selection Panel'. One criterion or multiple criteria can be added to this list and displayed on the map panel. Note that when multiple criteria are used, the map panel displays the total of all coastal segments fitting any one or more of the criteria – i.e., the map displays a union of all criteria using an “OR” operation. (Note however that it is possible to create a single query criterion which itself specifies coastal segments corresponding to a combination of criteria created with an “AND” operation, by using the 'Landform Classifiers' or 'Geology' tabs in the 'Search Criteria Selection Panel' as described above).

Use the 'Update Map' button to refresh the map display when the desired criteria have been added to the 'Query Criteria' tab list. Use tick boxes and click the 'Remove Selected' button to remove some of the criteria then click the 'Update Map' button to display the map with fewer criteria. Use the 'Clear All' button to remove all criteria in order to start a new selection.

Layers: Use this tab to add additional background or context layers to the map display (satellite imagery, contours, etc). Click on each layer category to expand the layers list, use tick boxes to select desired layers and click the 'Update Map' button to add these to the map display.

GoTo: Use this tab to zoom into an area of interest using predefined criteria (State, NRM region, Local Government area, IMCRA or Marine Region).

Using the Search Criteria Selection Panel and the Map Display Criteria Panel as described above, one can select a single class of feature from any of the Smartline attribute fields, and create a map showing where that one feature type exists, or else create a composite display showing the extent of all features corresponding to multiple criteria. An example exercise of each type is provided below.

Query Example – locate a single class of feature – Fringing Coral Reefs

Fringing coral reefs are mapped along continental and rocky island shores of Australia using a single class (719010 Fringing Coral Reefs), however this class may be recorded in one or more of several landform themes depending what other landform information is also recorded in the Smartline for coastal segments having fringing coral reefs.

Procedure:

  • Zoom into an area of coast likely to have fringing coral reefs (e.g., central Queensland coast) using the GoTo tab or the zoom tool.
  • Using the 'Smartline Classes' tab of the 'Search Criteria Selection Panel', select 'Subtidal 1' from the 'Landform Theme' drop-down list, then select '719010 Fringing Coral Reefs' from the 'Smartline Classes' drop-down list. Click the 'Add' button to add this selection to the 'Query Criteria' tab on the 'Map Display Criteria' panel.
  • Again using the 'Smartline Classes' tab of the 'Search Criteria Selection Panel', select 'Subtidal 2' from the 'Landform Theme' drop-down list, then again select '719010 Fringing Coral Reefs' from the 'Smartline Classes' drop-down list. Then again lick the 'Add' button to add this selection to the 'Query Criteria' tab on the 'Map Display Criteria' panel.
  • Checking the drop-down lists for 'Intertidal 1' and 'Intertidal 2', we see that fringing coral reefs have not in fact been mapped using these themes in the Smartline, although they potentially could have been. We have now covered the possible landform themes in which (living) Fringing Coral Reefs might be mapped, and have added all available occurrences of this coastal landform type to the 'Query Criteria' tab.
  • Click the 'Update Map' button at the bottom of the 'Query Criteria' tab. The Map Panel refreshes to display all shores with fringing coral reefs (recorded in either the Subtidal 1 or Subtidal 2 themes) highlighted in red.

[Note that the mapping of fringing coral reefs within the Smartline is known to be incomplete in some areas (Western Australia & Northern Territory); it is hoped that additional mapping of these features can be incorporated into future versions of the Smartline.]

Query – locate features classified in several ways – Cliffs

Within the Smartline, coastal cliffs may be recorded in the Backshore Distal, Backshore Proximal, Intertidal or Subtidal fields; they may be recorded as hard rock, soft rock or undifferentiated rock cliffs, as cliffs with colluvium, and as plunging cliffs. All these specific classes capture useful information, however sometimes we may wish to generate a map simply displaying all cliffs of whatever type lumped together. We can do this using the advanced search as follows:

Procedure:

  • Zoom into a cliffed coastal region using the GoTo tab or the zoom tool.
  • Using the 'Smartline Classes' tab of the 'Search Criteria Selection Panel', select 'Backshore Distal' from the 'Landform Theme' drop-down list, then scroll down the 'Smartline Classes' drop-down list until you find a class of cliffs. Select this and click the 'Add' button to add this class to the 'Query Criteria' tab in the 'Map Display Criteria' panel.
  • Continue scrolling down the 'Backshore Distal' Smartline Classes drop-down list, selecting and adding cliff classifications until no more are found (there are 9 such classifications within the Backshore Distal Smartline Classes). Note you can use the 'Shift' and 'Control' keys to select multiple classes in a dropdown list, and add all of them to the Query Criteria tab simultaneously with the 'Add' button.
  • Repeat this procedure using the drop-down lists for Backshore Proximal (9 cliff classes), Intertidal 1 & 2 (3 cliff classes each) and Subtidal 1 & 2 (3 cliff classes each).
  • You now have 30 cliff landform classes added to the Query Criteria tab. Click the 'Update Map' button on the 'Query Criteria' tab to refresh the map to indicate the union of shoreline segments having any of these 30 cliff classes as a red highlighted coast. Note that the response of the web-server may be noticeably slow when it is asked to plot so many different classes at once.

There are many similar cases in the Smartline Classification system, where similar features have been classified slightly differently in order to capture maximum information. For example, a 'fine to medium grained sandy beach' could potentially be classified as a “sandy shore undifferentiated”, a “sandy beach undifferentiated' or a “fine – medium grained sandy beach”, depending on how much information was available at the time the map was compiled. Hence the Advanced Search can be an effective way of displaying a certain type of feature 'lumped together' by selecting all possible classifications of that feature as search criteria; however it is also necessary to be reasonably familiar with the Smartline classification system in order to be confident of having selected all the possible classes in which the feature of interest could fall.

Back to top of page


Data Quality and Completeness

The Smartline coastal landform & stability mapping on this webpage is the first version of a national map compiled from over 200 data sources, using a range of geoprocessing techniques as described in the Project Report available from the Reports and Data link. The great majority of attributes in this dataset are considered to be accurate, however whilst considerable care and attention to detail has been exercised in compiling this dataset, it is inevitable that in any first version of a large and complex dataset such as this there will be some errors or omissions in the data. Indeed, a range of issues with the version 1.0 Smartline map are already known and these are listed in the Project Report available from the Reports and Data link.

Key known issues include:

  • The degree of landform mapping detail in the Smartline is dependant on the scale and detail provided by the original data sources from which the Smartline was created. Whilst the best available data sources were used, these vary considerably in scale and detail around the coast. In many cases, differing attributes of the same coastal segment were derived from different data sources; hence the scale and thus reliability of different attributes of a single coastal segment may differ. The scale (reliability and level of detail) the data sources for each attribute of each coastal segment is indicated by the 'scale' metadata attached to each attribute, which can be viewed by clicking on segments using the Information Tool in any Smartline Map window. The source of each attribute in each segment is similarly indicated by a 'ref' number, whose details can be obtained by referring to the 'Smartline Data Sources List' available under the Reports and Data link.
  • In some parts of the Australian coast, available data sources for certain attributes were only patchily available. Hence some attributes have significant data gaps because of the limitations in the data sources that were available from which to compile this Smartline map. Examples include:
    • The Intertidal landform attributes are complete for nearly the entire Australian coast, however gaps in these attributes exist for parts of the Northern Territory coast, and to a lesser extent elsewhere.
    • Backshore landform gaps exist for significant parts of the Western Australian coast and in some other places, where the only suitable data that could provide these attributes (geological mapping and satellite imagery) were not available in formats that could be automatically processed, and insufficient time was available for manual interpretation.
    • Subtidal landform attributes are very patchy and have only been captured for a few parts of the Australian coast. However additional relevant information is available in the form of marine habitat mapping, and should be added to the Smartline in future.
    • Exposure and intertidal slope attributes were only patchily captured – these attributes were largely derived from Oil Spill Response Atlas shoreline type datasets, and these do not everywhere include exposure and slope attributes
    It is intended that these data gaps will be filled in future, by undertaking appropriate data gathering and mapping exercises as required.
  • The shores of many tidal coastal lagoons and estuaries have not been attributed with geomorphic data, except in a few cases where such data was readily available in formats which could easily be incorporated into the Smartline. This is the result of decisions made early in the Smartline compilation process, to concentrate primarily on the open coast in order to keep the scope of the project within achievable limits. Attribution of coastal lagoon and estuary shores with geomorphic data is seen as the highest priority for further ongoing development of the Smartline Landform and Stability maps.
  • During final editing of the Smartline v.1, a number of geomorphic data errors were detected and manually corrected. Many of these probably resulted from vagaries in the automated geo-processing techniques which were used extensively as the only practical means available to compile the Smartline dataset for the entire national shoreline within a reasonable period. It is therefore inevitable that other as-yet undetected errors will exist in the data.

Despite the fact that due care has been exercised in the production of the Smartline dataset, it is inevitable that other issues and errors will also be discovered. It is intended that known issues will be resolved, data gaps filled and errors corrected in the future, so as to produce subsequent progressively improved versions of this dataset.

Hence users should be aware that some data gaps and omissions are known in the Smartline Landform & Stability mapping of Australia, and that other as-yet undetected issues and errors are likely to be present. The accuracy of the data provided by the Smartline Landform & Stability maps cannot be guaranteed, and users should not rely solely on the information provided by those maps in making decisions.

Author

Chris Sharples - University of Tasmania

Back to top of page