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McWay Cove, California, USA

A cove is a small type of bay or coastal inlet. They usually have narrow, restricted entrances, are often circular or oval, and are often inside a larger bay. Small, narrow, sheltered bays, inlets, creeks, or recesses in a coast are often considered coves. Colloquially, the term can be used to describe a sheltered bay.

Geomorphology describes coves as precipitously walled and rounded cirque-like openings as in a valley extending into or down a mountainside, or in a hollow or nook of a cliff or steep mountainside.

Coves, like bays, are formed by differential erosion. Differential erosion is when softer rocks are worn away faster than the harder rocks surrounding them. These rocks further erode to form a circular bay with a narrow entrance called a cove.

An example of a cove is Lulworth Cove on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, England. West of it a second cove, Stair Hole, is forming.

Two examples of how coves form. The rock types are those of Lulworth Cove. In example A a river breaks through the resistant chalk back rock and limestone leaving the weak clays to be rapidly eroded. In example B the sea breaks through the limestone, perhaps by forming a cave, and then erodes the clay away.


  • Jackson. Glossary of Geology: Fourth Edition. American Geological Institute, Alexandra, Virginia. 1997.
  • Clark, John O. E. & Stiegler, Stella. The Facts on File: Dictionary of Earth Science. Market House Books Ltd. New York. 2000

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From LoveToKnow 1911

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