Sandy coasts are constantly changing environments governed by complex interacting processes. Permanent laser scanning is a promising technique to monitor such coastal areas and support analysis of geomorphological deformation processes. This novel technique delivers 3D representations of a part of the coast at hourly temporal and centimetre spatial resolution and allows to observe small scale changes in elevation over extended periods of time. These observations have the potential to improve understanding and modelling of coastal deformation processes. However, to be of use to coastal researchers and coastal management, an efficient way to find and extract deformation processes from the large spatio-temporal data set is needed. In order to allow data mining in an automated way, we extract time series in elevation or range and use unsupervised learning algorithms to derive a partitioning of the observed area according to change patterns. We compare three well known clustering algorithms, k-means, agglomerative clustering and DBSCAN, and identify areas that undergo similar evolution during one month. We test if they fulfil our criteria for a suitable clustering algorithm on our exemplary data set. The three clustering methods are applied to time series of 30 epochs (during one month) extracted from a data set of daily scans covering a part of the coast at Kijkduin, the Netherlands. A small section of the beach, where a pile of sand was accumulated by a bulldozer is used to evaluate the performance of the algorithms against a ground truth. The k-means algorithm and agglomerative clustering deliver similar clusters, and both allow to identify a fixed number of dominant deformation processes in sandy coastal areas, such as sand accumulation by a bulldozer or erosion in the intertidal area. The DBSCAN algorithm finds clusters for only about 44 % of the area and turns out to be more suitable for the detection of outliers, caused for example by temporary objects on the beach. Our study provides a methodology to efficiently mine a spatio-temporal data set for predominant deformation patterns with the associated regions, where they occur.