Hayes, M.O. and FitzGerald, D.M., 2013. Origin, Evolution, and Classification of Tidal Inlets.
Tidal inlets are defined as major tidal channels separating individual barrier islands or barrier spits and adjacent headlands. Two types of barrier islands are recognized: (1) those that consistently migrate landward (transgressive), and (2) those that build seaward (prograding or regressive). The most common types include those that formed from (1) elongation of sand spits from major headlands; (2) drowning of coastal sand ridges; and (3) landward migrating transgressive barriers that stabilized and then prograded seaward during the mid-Holocene on the interfluves between the major lowstand valleys. Large tidal inlets developed in these former river valleys. The influence of tidal range vs. average wave height plays an important role in determining the morphology of the barrier islands and the character of the tidal inlets. As an example, the outer margins of the Georgia Bight, where the tidal range is microtidal and wave heights are greatest, most barrier islands are long (28–30 km), wave-dominated, and transgressive. Toward the mixed-energy head of the Bight, where the tidal range is mesotidal and waves are relatively small, barrier islands tend to be short (<15 km), regressive, and drumstick-shaped. Tidal inlets having large flood-tidal deltas are mostly restricted to the microtidal margins of the Bight, whereas inlets with large ebb-tidal deltas dominate the mesotidal head of the Bight. Most tidal inlets form by the following mechanisms: (1) storm-generated scour channels; (2) spit growth across the entrances to flooded valleys during the mid-Holocene; (3) intersection of major tidal channels by landward-migrating transgressive barrier islands; and (4) tidal prism-controlled, evenly spaced inlets that evolve in regions lacking major former river valleys.