Coastal scientists braced for storm-force research
A team of internationally-renowned scientists studying the power of waves, and the effect they have upon gravel beaches and coastal erosion, are bracing themselves for a storm as part of their fieldwork on one of Cornwall’s most notorious and celebrated coastlines. For more information, please see the press release below.
Release date: 13 March 2012
The researchers are measuring how Porthleven, in West Cornwall, responds to the powerful waves that batter its shore in one of the most comprehensive experiments of its type ever conducted.
Led by Plymouth University, the team are hoping to brave at least one winter storm buffeting, and are using cameras, laser scanners and acoustic devices to formulate the clearest picture yet of how gravel is moved up and down beaches.
Professor Gerd Masselink, of Plymouth University’s School of Marine Science and Engineering, is leading the research effort. He said: “Gravel beaches extend along more than 1,000 km of the coastline of England and Wales and represent sustainable coastal defences that can protect low-lying regions from flooding. However, limited scientific guidance is currently available to provide beach managers with operational management tools to predict the response of these beaches to storm conditions.
"The aim of this project is to develop such a predictive capability through an integrated research approach, involving novel field experimentation, comprehensive beach monitoring and innovative computer modelling."
Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and in partnership with academics from America and Australia, the Environment Agency, Channel Coastal Observatory and HR Wallingford, the project is running throughout March at Loe Bar, near Porthleven.
The gravel beach at the site shelves steeply into the sea, resulting in large waves that break directly against the shore. This ensures that it provides some of the best surfing conditions in the UK, but also some of the most severe coastal erosion.
Professor Paul Russell, also of Plymouth University, said: "This comprehensive field experiment will provide new fundamental knowledge on wave motion and gravel transport on beaches. This information will help develop computer models of sediment transport, coastal flooding and erosion, and will improve predictions of how gravel beaches respond to climate change."
The team are using a large number of state-of-the-art instruments to record water levels, flow speeds, rates of gravel movement and beach change – and from the data will be able to quantify wave motion, gravel sediment transport and beach response under extreme breaking waves.
The instruments are deployed from a 60 metre-long scaffold structure inserted at the high tide level and data is collected using a bank of laptop computers housed in a mobile field laboratory installed at the top of the beach.
During stormy conditions, the team will make use of remote sensing instruments above the water line, such as acoustic devices, laser scanners and cameras.
The University of Delaware is using a thermal camera to record wave motion on the beach. Dr Jack Puleo, from the university, said: "Conditions on Loe Bar are ideal for this research: the large tidal range will allow the installation of the scaffold rig and instruments with relative ease and the timing of the experiment at the end of the winter makes it likely that we will at least encounter one major storm event. "
"We should experience some energetic wave conditions with 3-5 metre-high breaking waves on the beach and such waves should cause significant beach change."