Coastal Modeling

A State-of-the-Art Approach to Design Wave Simulation

Coastal environments can be relentlessly unforgiving when it comes to winds, waves, erosion and flooding. The best waterfront projects account for these extreme coastal conditions during the design process by simulating them using numeric and physical modeling. Numeric and physical modeling provide each project with site-specific solutions that control for wave impacts and patterns, littoral current, and sedimentation. The result is a built solution that holds up under harsh conditions and protects the client’s waterfront investment.

The process starts with boots-on-the ground data collection in the field. Because accurate data is essential, SmithGroupJJR addresses most of this process in house, surveying land topography and seafloor and lake bottom bathymetry, analyzing wind and wave fields, and measuring currents affecting the site. This data collection often involves underwater visual inspection, in-water structural condition assessment, and seafloor and water column sampling. All of this base information is used to create the rigorous background information required for modeling.

Using high-tech computer simulation models to assess the impacts on design, coastal engineers are able to provide innovative solutions for harbor basin and channel engineering, breakwaters and wave attenuator systems, sedimentation control, shore protection, and water quality. For example, the spectral colors in the Ocean Reef Islands video above helped designers see the range of reflected wave heights in the marina basin and evaluate the performance of a unique breakwater configuration at the entrance.

Despite tremendous advances in 3D computer simulation, nothing beats an actual wave for predicting wave behavior in a complex coastal environment. The best tool for undertaking final design of a coastal waterfront is often a physical hydraulic model. Creating a scale model of a harbor or shoreline design alternative and subjecting it to real wave action allows for a complete evaluation of its performance. It is also a highly effective way to demonstrate design performance to clients.