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Dr Ivan Haigh

Lecturer in Coastal Oceanography

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New Paper: New understanding of rip currents could help to save lives

This is a press-release for our new paper – Wave breaking patterns control rip current flow regimes and surf zone retention, which can be accessed here.

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Research by the Universities of Southampton and Plymouth has found a new link between breaking waves and the hazard posed by rip currents.

The research provides a better understanding why some surf zone conditions are more hazardous than others and could result in more lives being saved.

Researchers deploying GPS drifters

Researchers Dr Ivan Haigh (left) and Dr Cristos Mitsis deploying GPS drifters.

Hazardous rip currents are features on many beaches worldwide, and are thought to account for 68 per cent of rescue events involving the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s beach lifeguards in the UK.

The study, which also involved researchers from Macquarie University (Sydney, AUS), and Deltares (Netherlands), used a combination of video imagery and in-situ rip current measurements at Perranporth Beach in Cornwall, which is well known for experiencing dangerous rips.

The researchers found that when waves break across the end of a rip channel, it in effect closes the channel and stops the currents from travelling far offshore. Crucially, however, they found that the absence of breaking waves across the channel promotes the formation of a much more hazardous rip current that can extend far offshore.

Sebastian Pitman, a PhD student in Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton, who led the study, said: “For the first time, we combined images captured by cameras at the beach to detect wave breaking and GPS drifters to track the rip currents to better understand what drives rip dynamics. We used the images to identify whether the waves were breaking across the end of the rip channel, or not, and worked out what behaviour the GPS drifters in the rip current were exhibiting at those times.”

Perranporth Beach
Perranporth Beach – arrows show the location of rip current channels

Co-author Associate Professor Ivan Haigh, also of Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton, said: “The combination of video imagery and GPS allowed us to identify that when wave breaking occurred across the rip channel, the rip current was often prevented from flowing far offshore. This would mean that anyone trapped in the current would be kept relatively close to the beach. However, when the waves ceased to break across the channel, we noticed that the rip currents would instead flow far offshore, presenting a much greater hazard to swimmers.”

This is the latest research into rip currents involving the University of Plymouth, with previous work having focussed on combining GPS drifter data with information recorded using current meters and water level sensors. This study builds on existing research between Plymouth and the RNLI and, for the first time, uses images captured at the beach to provide a comprehensive picture of the threats posed by rip currents.

Gerd Masselink, Professor of Coastal Geomorphology at the University of Plymouth, said: “It is possible to use the visually-observed wave breaking patterns to better understand why some surf zone conditions are more hazardous to bathers than others. This new information provides a useful means by which lifeguards on the beach can assess the hazard posed by a beach at a given time, which could result in more lives being saved.”

The findings are published in the Marine Geology journal, and are available here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025322716302821

New PhD project – Morphological evolution of managed realignment schemes

I am advertising a new PhD project – click here for details. Please contact me if you are interested or apply here.

New blog – Engineering in the Coastal Environment MSc

I am the co-director (together with Robert Nicholls) and admissions officer of the MSc Engineering in the Coastal Environment. This programe is uniquely provided jointly by academics from the Faculty of Engineering and the Environment, based at Highfield Campus and Ocean and Earth Science, based at the National Oceanography Centre. The programme is strongly linked to industry and focussed on applied issues in the coastal zone. The overall goal is to educate technically-orientated coastal practitioners for suitable employment in coastal engineering, both in consultancies and relevant areas of government. I am pleased to say we have just launched a new blog with details about the course and interviews with past and present students. Our current students are finishing off their research projects. Our next intake start the last week in September 2013.

All the best Bryce Corlett

I want to wish Bryce Corlett all the best as he moves back to the USA to start a PhD at Wood’s Hole. Bryce has spent a year at the NOC undertaking the Engineering in the Coastal Environment MSc that I co-direct with Prof Robert Nicholls and Carl Amos. Byrce undertook his research project with me, looking at relative sea level trends and vertical land movements around the UK. We are in the process of writing that work up as a journal paper. All the best with this next stage of your life!

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New paper published in the South African Journal of Science

This paper has just been published in the South African Journal of Science:

http://www.sajs.co.za/sites/default/files/publications/pdf/Smith%20et%20al_Research%20Letter.pdf

Rescuing Historical UK Sea Level Data

During my PhD I digitised Historical sea level data, extending the Southampton record back to 1935. This web-site details other efforts to rescue historic data – http://historicsealevel.wordpress.com.

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International Short Conference on Advances in Extreme Value Analysis and Application to Natural Hazards (EVAN2013)

I’ll be giving an invited talk at this conference in Sep 2013: http://www.uni-siegen.de/evan2013/. Should be good!

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