An international project led by the University of Bath is using laser sensors to measure the size and power of waves. The LiDAR sensors, similar to those used for driverless cars and buses, measure 37,500 points a second to scan each individual wave as it breaks and determines the changing height of the water surface.

“This will enable us to better understand the impact [of waves] on coastal defences, beaches and cliffs, and erosion rates”


The sensors are mounted above the water level to structures such as piers and can produce an animation of the breaking waves as well as calculating the amount of sand being displaced from the waves.

The Waves in Shallow Water (WASH) project has been funded by a £100,000 Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) grant and the research team are measuring the effect of breaking waves in two very different locations – in Saltburn in Northwest England and Valparaiso in Chile.

“It is hoped that the results of this research will inform the models used by coastal engineers in the future”


“This is a really exciting project that will enable us to better understand not only the individual and cumulative force of waves over time, but also their impact on coastal defences, beaches and cliffs, and erosion rates,” said Dr Chris Blenkinsopp, the project lead from the University’s Water Innovation & Research Centre (WIRC) and a senior lecturer in the department of architecture and civil engineering.

“We have seen the damage the power of waves can cause and it is hoped that the results of this research will inform the models used by coastal engineers in the future allowing them to more effectively design coastal structures and plan coastal defences,” he said

Predicting erosion and flooding

The team includes researchers from the University of Newcastle, Australia, and the University of Delaware, USA, and the findings of this research will benefit environment agencies, coastal engineers and local councils of coastal towns as well as local residents who live on the coast. The results and insight will help better understand the behaviour and power of waves and in turn allow more accurate estimations of the wave force on coastal defence structures; predict erosion rates on beaches, cliffs and dunes; and forecast coastal flooding.

In recent years the UK has experienced the negative effects of wave power, most notably the destruction of the coastal railway line through Dawlish in Devon in 2014 and North Sea tidal surge in 2013. In Devon, the power from waves during the winter storms washed away the track and took two months to rebuild courtesy of a 300-strong Network Rail team at a cost of £35m.

It is hoped that the results of the project will enable relevant authorities to better predict any future risks from wave power and improve the resilience of coastal management, as well as ensuring the maintenance of beaches is informed and effective.

WIRC is hosting a talk on the truths, myths and legends of rock shale gas and its impact on the water industry on 23 November