Surf's up: New research provides precise way to monitor ocean wave behavior, shore impacts

Jan 28, 2011
Left camera. Video of ocean waves from two different cameras are being used in new technology to create a "stereo vision" analysis of the surf zone. (Image courtesy of Oregon State University)

Engineers have created a new type of "stereo vision" to use in studying ocean waves as they pound against the shore, providing a better way to understand and monitor this violent, ever-changing environment.

The approach, which uses two to feed data into an advanced computer system, can observe large areas of waves in real time and help explain what they are doing and why, scientists say.

The system may be of particular value as and pose additional challenges to vulnerable shorelines around the world, threatened by coastal erosion. The technology should be comparatively simple and inexpensive to implement.

"An crashing on shore is actually the end of a long story that usually begins thousands of miles away, formed by wind and storms," said David Hill, an associate professor of coastal and at Oregon State University. "We're trying to achieve with cameras and a computer what human eyes and the brain do automatically – see the way that near-shore waves grow, change direction and collapse as they move over a seafloor that changes depth constantly."

This is the first attempt to use stereo optical imaging in a marine field setting on such a large scale, Hill said, and offers the potential to provide a constant and scientifically accurate understanding of what is going on in the surf zone. It's also a form of remote sensing that doesn't require placement of instruments in the pounding surf environment.

Applications could range from analyzing wave impacts to locating shoreline structures, building ocean structures, assisting the shipping industry, improving boating safety, reducing property damage or, literally, providing some great detail to surfers about when the "surf's up."

Only in recent years, Hill said, have extraordinary advances in computer science made it possible to incorporate and make sense out of what a dynamic marine environment is doing at the moment it happens.

"A wave is actually a pretty difficult thing for a computer to see and understand," Hill said. "Some things like speed are fairly easy to measure, but subtle changes in height, shape and motion as the waves interact with a changing bottom, wind and sediments are much more difficult."

Researchers at OSU and the Technical University of Delft in The Netherlands made important recent advances toward this goal, which were reported in Coastal Engineering, a professional journal.

Other studies at OSU have documented that heights and coastal erosion in the Pacific Northwest are increasing in recent decades, adding to the need for a better understanding of those waves when they hit shore.

One study just last year concluded that the highest offshore waves may be as much as 46 feet, up from estimates of only 33 feet that were made as recently as 1996, and a 40 percent increase.

Explore further: Study shows air temperature influenced African glacial movements

Related Stories

NASA technology captures massive hurricane waves

Sep 26, 2006

A hurricane's fury can be relentless, from frightening winds, to torrential rains and flooding. These storms also create enormous ocean waves that are hazardous to ships. And through storm surges of up to 30 ...

New research sheds light on freak wave hot spots

Aug 05, 2009

Stories of ships mysteriously sent to watery graves by sudden, giant waves have long puzzled scientists and sailors. New research by San Francisco State professor Tim Janssen suggests that changes in water depth and currents, ...

Mathematicians provide new insight into tsunamis

Apr 01, 2009

A new mathematical formula that could be used to give advance warning of where a tsunami is likely to hit and how destructive it will be has been worked out by scientists at Newcastle University.

Recommended for you

Image: Grand Canyon geology lessons on view

3 hours ago

The Grand Canyon in northern Arizona is a favorite for astronauts shooting photos from the International Space Station, as well as one of the best-known tourist attractions in the world. The steep walls of ...

First radar vision for Copernicus

3 hours ago

Launched on 3 April, ESA's Sentinel-1A satellite has already delivered its first radar images of Earth. They offer a tantalising glimpse of the kind of operational imagery that this new mission will provide ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

China says massive area of its soil polluted

A huge area of China's soil covering more than twice the size of Spain is estimated to be polluted, the government said Thursday, announcing findings of a survey previously kept secret.

First radar vision for Copernicus

Launched on 3 April, ESA's Sentinel-1A satellite has already delivered its first radar images of Earth. They offer a tantalising glimpse of the kind of operational imagery that this new mission will provide ...

Image: Grand Canyon geology lessons on view

The Grand Canyon in northern Arizona is a favorite for astronauts shooting photos from the International Space Station, as well as one of the best-known tourist attractions in the world. The steep walls of ...

Book offers simplified guide to shale gas extraction

The new book, "Science Beneath the Surface: A Very Short Guide to the Marcellus Shale," attempts to offer a reader-friendly, unbiased, scientific guide needed to make well-informed decisions regarding energy ...

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...