Oceanic plates are geologically young, forming at mid-ocean ridges and becoming deeper and older with distance away from these spreading centres, to be subducted into ocean trenches. Most of the islands that occur on these oceanic plates are basaltic, formed at hot spots, and carried into deeper water as the plate migrates. In tropical reef-forming seas, volcanic islands are usually protected by coral reefs, and undergo transition from fringing reefs, to barrier reefs, to atolls, as envisaged by Darwin. Linear island chains comprise volcanic islands at successive stages in the progression from volcano through coral reefs to seamounts and guyots. Erosion occurs rapidly in the early stages once eruption has ceased, and older islands are conspicuously dissected by fluvial action, as observed by Dana. Many are subject to submarine slumping. In the absence of coral reefs, marine abrasion truncates islands, producing near-vertical cliffs, and islands may be entirely bevelled; Balls Pyramid in the southern Pacific appears to be at the penultimate stage of this planation with a broad shelf around it. Coral reefs protect the shoreline, which is usually deeply embayed, with progressive subsidence until volcanic residuals are all that remain on ‘almost-atolls’. Reef limestones indicate earlier phases of reef formation, and there are limestone cliffs around many tropical islands composed of Last Interglacial limestone often veneering older reef terraces. In some cases, the morphology of these limestone coasts contains prominent notches or surf benches reflecting different degrees of exposure to wave energy, or subtle flexure and vertical displacement. Islands provide discrete examples of rocky coasts, with contrasts between adjacent islands, or islands of different ages, providing many insights into the evolutionary stages and the morphodynamics of bold coasts.
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Rocky landforms dominate large portions of the world's coast. Cliffs and shore platforms form spectacular landscapes, yet when compared to other landforms they are relatively unstudied with many contemporary controversies dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. The past decade has seen a reinvigoration of research driven by advances in technology that now enable precise measurements of erosion to the micron scale and quantification of wave energy onto and through cliff edifices to be made, as well as being able to directly date rock surfaces. In order to integrate this diverse range of research this volume's regional approach first integrates the latest data with longstanding theory and then analyses this research through the boundary conditions that exist in each area. The volume brings together the research leaders in the field; includes chapters on nearly all the major rock coasts of the world and identifies future research needs.