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Short communication: evidence for geologic control of rip channels along Prince Edward Island, Canada

June 3, 2021

Rip currents can move unsuspecting swimmers offshore rapidly and represent a significant risk to beach users worldwide, including along the northern coast of Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada. Although many rip currents are ephemeral and/or spatially variable in response to changes in the nearshore bar morphology and wave and tidal forcing, it is possible for rip channels to be geologically controlled and quasi-permanent in morphology, location, and flow. Several rip channels along the northern coast of PEI appear in the same location from year to year and correspond to elongated lakes, rivers, or swales behind the modern coastal dune system. Given their persistent location and alignment with back dune hydrology, ground-penetrating radar surveys were collected along Brackley and Cavendish Beaches in July 2019 to determine whether persistent rip channels are associated with now-buried river channels extending beneath the modern dunes and continuing offshore. Strong reflectors similar to V-shaped river valleys are present in alongshore transects at both beaches. These infilled valleys align with back-dune hydrology and persistent rip channels, suggesting modern rip channels are structurally controlled and maintained by antecedent geology. This link provides important guidance to beach access management and the distribution of lifesaving strategies along the affected beaches.