UNCW introduces new 9,500 gallon wave flume to study ocean power

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — UNCW students and faculty in the undergraduate Coastal Engineering program now have new ways to study the power of ocean waves using a state-of-the-art wave flume installed right next to their classrooms.

Spanning nearly 80 feet long and 5 feet wide, the glass and steel tank, which can be seen off the main lobby of the department’s newly constructed building, holds 9,500 gallons of water —the equivalent of over 160 bathtubs full.

According to Dr. Joe Long, director of UNCW’s Coastal Engineering program, there is no other wave flume this size or with these capabilities in the southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.

“The wave flume is another tool in our back pocket to better understand our evolving coastline. As the state’s coastal university, we take our classes to the beach for teaching and research and now we can also step into our wave lab and conduct controlled lab and modeling experiments,” Long said.

The flume can be programmed to mimic nature with calm or more energetic waves, and the slope of the bottom can be adjusted to better understand how waves break under different conditions.

Researchers can also add sand to study how waves affect the ocean floor by creating turbulence and currents that move sediment and by creating sandbars.

“In nature, we can’t follow an individual wave or stop the waves to measure where the sand has moved. We can’t put a structure in place, run a wave condition, then change the structure and run the same wave condition to see if the performance changed,” Dr. Long explained. “With this equipment, students will be able to see complex concepts that we explain in the classroom up close and use the facility as part of research projects.”

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