UNCW Coastal Engineering found a new way to study beach erosion

Published: Jun. 16, 2023 at 7:58 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Beach erosion is a chronic multi-million dollar problem along the North Carolina coast. Some coastal engineering students at the University of North Carolina Wilmington are learning more about it with a brand new high tech lab.

A few years ago, UNCW created a new undergraduate program to study coastal engineering back in 2019. Their new contraption is basically one giant wave maker and it’s called the Wave Flume Lab.

This flume is a portion of what you might see at a water park in the wave pool. It has a plate at the far end pushing the water forward to make a wave.

Dr. Joe Long, UNCW director of coastal engineering, said that one of the main focuses in this lab is to test new erosion control devices in order for students and professionals to learn how to stop the erosion on our shorelines.

The uniqueness of this flume is that they can control how tall and the frequency in which the wave is created.

“We can control the parameters or control the conditions of waves that we make to look at how waves approach the shoreline, how they dissipate their energy at the shoreline, and how they move sediment. Then we can test new and innovative ways to build a more resilient coastline,” said Long.

With this flume, researchers can create a wave that is 80 feet long and 5 feet wide and study our evolving coastline in new and innovative ways.

UNCW’s coastal engineering program is the only undergraduate program of its kind in the country and the first students to graduate from this program were during the winter 2022 graduation.

This giant wave cost about half a million dollars and was put together piece by piece for nearly two months, along with a year before that to design the flume.

Inside this lab, students learn about the physics of the ocean, waves, currents, and movement of sediments – which are many things that can’t be seen when you’re standing on the coastline.

“The fact that there are glass sidewalls to this means that we actually get to see the bubbles that are created by waves turning over and breaking and the amount of what we call turbulence or just the messiness of how those waves will then pick up the sediments, reach down to the bottom, pick up the cement. We see all that here, which we don’t see in nature,” said Long.

Long said that the students went on to work for a variety of companies and agencies using their new expertise. Companies such as engineering firms, hydrographic surveying and state and federal agencies such as the DOT.