Monitoring Water Levels and Coastal Change

We observe, study, and model total water levels along the coast which are forced by a combination of tides, surge, and wave runup. Total water levels are responsible for driving coastal change on a variety of spatial and temporal scales and understanding them is essential to forecasting coastal erosion hazards. We work with federal (e.g., USGS), local, and academic partners to validate and improve models for total water levels and coastal change.

Dune Erosion and Overwash

Sand dunes serve as a primary line of defense protecting infrastructure and communities from ocean waves, currents, and water levels. Dunes typically take many years or decades to grow, but tropical and extratropical storms can decimate them in a matter of hours. In our research we use data and models to better understand how dunes evolve and identify what characteristics make them more resilient.

Nearshore Hydrodynamics

Ocean waves propogate towards the coast and dissipate energy within a thin strip of the ocean close to the shoreline known as the nearshore region. As waves begin to break, they transfer momentum into currents that are responsbile for moving large amounts of sand and changing the coniguration of the nations coast. Our research develops and uses numerical models that describe the complex interactions of waves, currents, and sediment transport to predict coastal change and inform coastal decision-makers.

Barrier Island Evolution

Barrier Islands are prominent features along much of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States. They are diverse landforms generally with a mixture of beach, dune, low and high marsh environments that provide homes to multiple species. Despite being exposed to waves and surge, many have become highly developed. We use elevation data, satellite imagery, and models to quantify how these islands are changing and link their evolution to oceanographic drivers.

Shoreline Change

Shorelines represent the continuously changing boundary between marine and terrestrial environments. Drivers of shoreline change vary spatially and temporally and can be hydrodynamic (e.g., waves, tides, surge, sea level-rise), geomorphic (e.g., sediment type, nearshore geology), and anthropogenic (e.g., beach nourishments, structures impeding sediment delivery). Despite the need for estimates of where shorelines will be in the future, the ablity to predict shoreline change is still limited. Our research focuses on building and testing a variety of models and data assimilation techniques that utilize shoreline data from as many sources as possible (on-the-ground surveys, aerial photos, satellite images, lidar data).

Rip Currents

Rip currents present a hazard to beach goers and unwary swimmers, particularly those on beaches without lifeguard presence. Research has shown that rip currents are formed by a number of different mechanisms but models capable of predicting rip current hazards everywhere, all the time, are not yet avaialble. We work with federal scientists and stakeholders responsible for issuing hazard warnings (e.g., NOAA, NWS) to test avaialble models and develop ways to better detect and track the presence of rip currents from video imagery.




University of North Carolina Wilmington
Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography
601 South College Road
Wilmington, NC 28403-5606