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Journal Articles Earth-Science Reviews Year : 2016

Rip current types, circulation and hazard

T. Scott
R.W. Brander
  • Function : Author
R.J. Mccarroll
  • Function : Author


Rip currents are narrow and concentrated seaward-directed flows that extend from close to the shoreline, through the surf zone, and varying distances beyond. Rip currents are ubiquitous on wave-exposed coasts. Each year they cause hundreds of drowning deaths and tens of thousands of rescues on beaches worldwide and are therefore the leading deadly hazard to recreational beach users. The broad definition above masks considerable natural variability in terms of rip current occurrence in time and space, flow characteristics and behaviour. In particular, surf-zone rip currents have long been perceived as narrow flows extending well beyond the breakers, flushing out the surf zone at a high rate ('exit flow' circulation regime), while more recent studies have shown that rip flow patterns can consist of quasi-steady semi-enclosed vortices retaining most of the floating material within the surf zone ('circulatory flow' circulation regime). Building upon a growing body of rip current literature involving numerical modelling and theory together with emergence of dense Lagrangian field measurements, we develop a robust rip current type classification that provides a relevant framework to understand the primary morphological and hydrodynamic parameters controlling surf-zone rip current occurrence and dynamics. Three broad categories of rip current types are described based on the dominant controlling forcing mechanism. Each category is further divided into two types owing to different physical driving mechanisms for a total of six fundamentally different rip current types: hydrodynamically-controlled (1) shear instability rips and (2) flash rips, which are transient in both time and space and occur on alongshore-uniform beaches; bathymetrically-controlled (3) channel rips and (4) focused rips, which occur at relatively fixed locations and are driven by hydrodynamic processes forced by natural alongshore variability of the morphology in both the surf zone and inner shelf zone; and boundary-controlled (5) deflection rips and (6) shadow rips, which flow against rigid lateral boundaries such as natural headlands or anthropogenic structures. For each rip current type, flow response to changes in hydrodynamic and morphologic forcing magnitude is examined in regard to velocity modulation and changes in circulation regime, providing key force-response relationships of rip currents. We also demonstrate that in the real world, rip currents form through a mixture of driving mechanisms and the discrete rip types defined in fact form key elements in a wide and complex spectrum of rip currents on natural beaches. It is anticipated that this rip current type classification will serve as a resource for coastal scientists and non-specialists with an interest in the rip current hazard, and as a platform for future rip current studies. Finally, we suggest some important future research directions highlighting the need for coastal and beach safety communities to collaborate in order to improve rip current education and awareness.
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Dates and versions

insu-03190255 , version 1 (06-04-2021)


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B. Castelle, T. Scott, R.W. Brander, R.J. Mccarroll. Rip current types, circulation and hazard. Earth-Science Reviews, 2016, 163, pp.1-21. ⟨10.1016/j.earscirev.2016.09.008⟩. ⟨insu-03190255⟩


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