Wave Forecasting

Co-creating Operational and Strategic Modelling Systems to Reduce Economic and Societal Impacts of Coastal Hazards
This project will see the development of an operational real-time storm impact model designed to provide detailed forecasts of storm events and coastal hazards.

Wave ModelProf. Gerd Masselink, Dr Tim Poate, and Dr Kit Stokes from the University of Plymouth Coastal Processes Research Group, together with Prof. Martin Attrill from the University of Plymouth Marine Institute are leading this project that will improve the level of detail and accuracy possible when predicting coastal flooding and other hazards around our coastline.

The model analyses wave and water levels to predict coastal flooding risks up to five days in advance and with far greater accuracy than current systems can provide. Through strong relationships with our Partners who provide model input data (MetOffice), nearshore bathymetry, beach levels and real-time wave data (Plymouth Coastal Observatory), we aim to support the Environment Agency and local authorities to be better informed about storm impacts. Well-known incidents such as the Dawlish train line closure, and flooding in the Cornish villages of Boscastle and Coverack are just a few examples of where this information has the power to make a big difference.

The OWWL Model

The team have already launched the first version of their model, which has been named OWWL – Operational Wave and Water Level Model. Available live on the Channel Coastal Observatory website,  OWWL automatically generates daily outputs that give greater resolution to current wave and water height data available. OWWL also enables better predictions for locations all around the South West coast, even areas not currently measured by wave buoys. Each day, OWWL generates a three-day forecast and one-day hindcast, which plots data from the model against data from nearshore wave buoys and tide gauges.

Watch our film about the OWWL model to find out more about how it works and why forecasting coastal overtopping is so important.

Our Films

Having heard about the SWEEP-OWWL coastal overtopping forecast and its use in South Wales, Barry Island Primary School in Wales invited SWEEP impact fellow Dr Kit Stokes to answer a few questions their year 6 students had about coastal flooding. The school children (aged 10-11 years) asked some insightful questions about flooding and how things will change as they become adults in the future. Episode 3 of our Climate Conscious Conversations features the children interviewing Dr Stokes on topics including satellites and playstations!

Inspired by their studies into coastal flooding risk, the school children then designed a prototype coastal flood warning system and tested it out in a scale-model of their local sea frontage. Watch their short film Our Coastal Flooding Construction Project by members of Berry Island Primary School, Year 6. Good work all round!

Our Partners

Working closely with the Environment Agency, Met Office, RNLI, Plymouth Coastal Observatory, Channel Coastal Observatory, Cornwall Resilience Board and Cornwall Marine Hub, the team will produce a tool that gives clearer information around the location and risk level of coastal flooding events than ever before. The model will help organisations assess and protect vulnerable areas of coastal and habitat, but also has the potential to play a vital role in saving lives and resources.

Project Code: 001
Impact Summary
Project Summary
Project Lead:
Dr Timothy Poate
SWEEP Impact Fellow

Tim is delivering an operational wave forecasting tool to better inform local authorities and coastal managers about storm impacts on the South West coastline. Tim is a coastal scientist who has studied the impacts of offshore renewables, the response of storm events on gravel beaches and the role of intertidal rocky platforms on wave attenuation. In Plymouth since 2008, Tim previously worked for the Channel Coastal Observatory where he was surrounded by coastal data!

Dr Kit Stokes
SWEEP Impact Fellow

Kit is delivering project 001 – an operational wave forecasting tool to better inform local authorities and coastal managers about storm impacts on the South West coastline. Kit is a coastal scientist who has studied the impacts of offshore renewables on beaches and water users, bathing risks on UK beaches, and drivers of coastal flooding in the UK. When he’s not studying waves and beaches in the office, he’s studying them on a surfboard in the sea.

Professor Martin Attrill
SWEEP Marine Co-Lead

Martin is a Marine Ecologist interested in the links between marine biodiversity, ecosystem services and human activity. Within SWEEP, he coordinates the University of Plymouth input, as well as being actively involved in projects associated with Marine Ecosystem Services, particularly Marine Protected Areas.

Professor Gerd Masselink
SWEEP Coastal Protection Lead

Gerd’s activities on the SWEEP project are concerned with generating impact in the coastal zone, specifically in relation to coastal hazards, including coastal flood risk, sea-level rise and beach safety. He is a physical geographer with a strong track record of publication and funding in anything to do with coastal processes and geomorphology. Gerd has worked for the University of Plymouth since 2006, and arrived in Plymouth via Utrecht, Sydney, Perth and Loughborough.

Storm Emma Case Study:
Real-time coastal flooding prediction during a 100year storm event

Location: South Devon and Cornwall, UK.
Dates: 1st – 2nd March 2018

Storm Emma
Figure 1

A real-time coastal flood warning system is being developed for the entire southwest of England that, for the first time, predicts the potential hazard of wave set up, run-up and overtopping in the region. These elements can contribute many meters to the total elevation of the sea and cause significant flooding during a storm. At the core of the system is a 1km resolution Delft 3D wave and hydrodynamic model 246 topographic profiles, representing the most at-risk areas for each stretch of the 900km coastline of south-west UK, are used for the prediction of wave run-up and overtopping, using different formulae for profiles featuring gravel beaches, sandy beaches, and sea defence structures.

During Storm Emma, which featured easterly wave heights of 55m 100year return period (figure 2), the model predicted extreme wave run-up far exceeding the crest height of the gravel barrier at Slapton Sands (figure 1). The run-up was predicted to add 6meters to the vertical reach of the sea during this storm, and caused severe damage to the A379 road atop the barrier (figure 3). Predictions of tide and storm surge alone would not have predicted the hazard that this event posed, due to the extreme degree of wave run-up. We worked with the Environment Agency and further tested the model over the 2018-19 winter.

Storm Emma 2
Figure 2
Storm Emma 3
Figure 3

Project News

Councillors consider SWEEP research on coastal change in East Devon

A report by SWEEP/University of Plymouth estimating future rates of coastal erosion in East Devon over the next 100 years has…

Coastal overtopping forecast made available to the public

The Operational Wave and Water Level (OWWL) model, developed as part of the SWEEP Wave Forecasting project, is now available…

Coastal overtopping forecast for South West England made available to the public.

Coastal processes scientists from the University of Plymouth have developed a new, more accurate way of forecasting wave overtopping hazards…

Project Events