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Wave study could help improve seawalls

Old sea wall   wave

The way a wave distributes water when it hits a seawall could provide vital clues to better designing coastal defences, according to scientists.

Researchers have found a way to predict what happens to the water inside big waves when they collide with cliffs, seawalls and buildings.

Stormy sea conditions were recreated in a 24m wave flume in Japan to examine the impact of waves on vertical walls. The tests were carried out by teams from the University of Edinburgh and Hokkaido University.

They found that when a breaking wave hits a vertical structure, a powerful jet of water is thrown straight up into the air. These huge sheets of water then split into several “fingers” before breaking apart into a spray of droplets, which can hit surfaces with real force. The trials found that water is dispersed in a distinct pattern that varies depending on the size of waves.

A statistical model to calculate the pattern of spray according to the wave impact has now been developed. The aim of this is to help better develop sea defence strategies.

“The UK and Japan are island nations on the edge of large oceans where storms can create very big waves. With climate change increasing the intensity and frequency of storms, a better understanding of the interaction of waves and our natural and engineered coast is critical,” said University of Edinburgh School of Engineering professor David Ingram.

The study has been published in the Royal Society journal Proceedings A. The research was funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

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