ICT technology tackles current affairs

Plymouth University and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) are collaborating on a project that will use ICT technology to study potentially hazardous rip currents at a beach in north Cornwall.

’We know what rip currents are, but we do not fully understand what controls their flow strength and pattern,’ said Prof Gerd Masselink from the university’s School of Marine Science and Engineering. ’Our understanding is particularly poor for rip currents on beaches with a large tide range.

Practically all beaches in the UK are characterised by a large tidal range and if rip currents are present, their activity, and therefore the hazard they present, strongly depends on the tidal stage.’

The Beach Wizard will be used to predict rip current activity at different times and at different locations

The university has set up video cameras to build up a picture of the pattern of wave breaking and sandbar locations. This will be combined with tidal levels and wave conditions and used to drive a computer model – dubbed the Beach Wizard – to predict rip current activity at different times of the day and at different locations.

During experiments in May and September 2011, the research team will deploy 30 GPS ’drifters’ that mimic the movement of a floating swimmer and measure the speed and direction of the journey the drifters take.

Current meters and wave measuring devices at 10 locations will record current velocity over different tide cycles. The results from the fieldwork will feed into the Beach Wizard to enable it to predict beach behaviour.

The results of the study, which has received £500,000 from the Natural Environment Research Council, are expected to improve understanding of rip currents and lead to improved lifeguard training, safety advice and logistical planning for the RNLI.