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Measuring waves and currents in littoral areas: are the available instruments

adequate enough?


Hidrogrfico, Rua das Trinas n49, 1249-093 Lisboa


Keywords: Field measurements, Sediment transport, Extreme events

Abstract: This study aims to challenging the manufactures of marine instruments with three
challenges that came up after two field campaigns. These campaigns were done to measure the
near-shore circulation promoted by the wave-induced currents at the breaking zone. The first
campaign took place in S. Jacinto and the second in Gelfa, NW Portugal. Both beaches are
exposed to a wave regime characterized by a wave direction frequently perpendicular to the
coastline, thereby inducing the formation of rip cells. These cells are very dangerous for
swimmers and several drowning had already occurred in S. Jacinto beach. Several instruments
were deployed to measure waves, wave-induced and tidal currents but some limitations and
challenges had appeared.
Currently, it is accepted that infra-gravity (IG) waves can play a major role on beach morphology.
The equipments that measure waves should provide not only the gravity spectrum but also the IG
spectrum automatically in order to study better this type of waves. Also, some equipment that
measured currents become submerged during the field campaigns for 1-2 hours. This can also be
prevented if the equipments fixed to steel structures were able to move during the tidal cycle.
Morphological changes induced by external forcing (waves and tidal currents) also play a major
role in littoral areas. Near inlets, they cause the shoaling and even the closure of the inlet mouth
and, some coastal lagoons requires frequent dredging works. Near harbours, where the water
depths are deep enough to allow navigation, accretion takes place and every year harbour
administrations spend financial resources to increase the water depths. During severe storms,
morphological changes at beaches occur drastically and few measurements are currently
available during such extreme events. For that reasons, measuring the sediment transport in
littoral areas and during extreme events are of extreme importance. Are the available instruments
adequate enough?

1. Introduction
Littoral areas are zones of great interest for the public in general. They are located at the sealand interface and their productivity range from biological (larvae and mussels) to financial
(tourism and surf) resources. However, external forcing, such as waves and tidal currents, can
strongly modify the morphology of these areas. For example, coastal erosion is now a common
problem in a variety of coastal trenches (Figure 1a). This erosion occurs during strong storms and
will put in danger the nearby constructions and also destroy the habitats of many sea species.
Sediment accretion at an inlet mouth and at harbour entrance puts in risk the water quality and
disallows navigation, respectively (Figure 1b and c). Dredging activities are common but are also
sometimes too expensive for the local authorities. Therefore, current knowledge of near-shore
dynamics should be improved.

Figure 1. Coastal erosion (a), sediment interaction at an inlet mouth (b) and sediment accretion at harbour entrance (c).

Besides the sediment transport during storms that is mainly caused by cross-shore currents
(Roelvink et al., 2009), morphological changes are frequently induced by long-shore currents.
These last currents will move sediments to north or south depending of the incident wave
direction. Southwards sediment transport will stop near breakwaters and sediment accretion
takes place upstream. Downstream, due to the vortex-induced currents erosion will occur. If this
behaviour persists over a year, it can be said that the breakwater potentiate coastal erosion at the
adjacent downwards beaches. To understand the complex near-shore circulation two field
campaigns were developed by Instituto Hidrogrfico in June and September 2015. This study
aims to challenging the instrument manufactures with some limitations and issues that appeared
after these campaigns.
2. Field campaigns
2.1 S. Jacinto beach
S. Jacinto beach is located upstream of Aveiro northern breakwater, NW Portugal (Figure 2). This
beach is exposed to a very energetic wave regime during the winter with offshore wave heights
reaching up to 10 m. The wave regime are characterized by large swells (10 16 s) mainly
coming from NW and by local wind-generated waves with smaller periods (4 10 s).

Morphologically, the coastline orientation and the most frequent wave direction (NW) potentiate
several rip cells along the beach.

Figure 2. Equipments deployed in S. Jacinto beach: ADCP (red square), ACM (green squares), PT (yellow circles), ADV (red
triangle) and ECM (green triangle). Bathymetry contours (dashed lines).

During S. Jacinto beach campaign, several instruments were moored and others were deployed
at the beach (Figure 2). Offshore wave conditions were obtained by an acoustic Doppler current
profiler (ADCP) moored at 12 m depth. Wave shoaling and further dissipation was measured by 8
pressure transducers (PT) in a cross-shore profile. Finally, long-shore currents were obtained at
10 m depth by 2 acoustic current meters (ACM) and, at the inter-tidal zone, by 2 acoustic Doppler
velocimeters (ADV) and 1 electromagnetic current meter (ECM). Wave and currents
measurements were performed from 8 am to 8 pm of 18 June, 2015. This interval was sufficient
to cover half-tidal cycle. A more detailed analysis can be seen in Mendes et al. (2015).
2.2 Gelfa beach
Gelfa beach is located at Vila Praia de ncora, NW Portugal (Figure 3). The beach configuration
is characterized by a small bay limited by rocky outcrops both at north and at south. At the
northern part of Gelfa beach there is a small harbour that had required frequently dredging works.
Due to the extent of the southern rocky outcrops and the wave direction (NW), sediments are
driven to the northern part and accumulate at the harbour mouth. Offshore wave climate is similar
to S. Jacinto beach.

Figure 3. Equipments deployed in Gelfa beach: ADCP (red square), ACM (green squares), PT (yellow circles), ADV (red triangle)
and ECM (green triangle). Bathymetry contours (dashed lines).

In S. Jacinto beach we were able to accurately measure the wave shoaling and further
dissipation. Therefore, in Gelfa beach we decided to measure the long-shore circulation patterns.
Several instruments were also moored while others were deployed at the beach (Figure 3) as in
S. Jacinto. Offshore wave conditions were obtained by an ADCP moored at 10 m depth.
Horizontal currents over the water column were measured by an ADCP and by an ACM at 5 m
depth. Long-shore barotropic fluctuations were measured by 8 pressure transducers (PT). Finally,
long-shore currents were obtained at the beach by 3 ADV and by 3 ECM. Wave and current
measurements were performed from 8 am to 8 pm of 30 September, 2015. There was also a
persistent rip cell in front of the central ADV (Figure 3). Circulation patterns inside the rip were
also continuously monitored during the experiment.
3. Challenges
3.1 Submerged instruments
ADV were attached to steel structures and deployed at the beach during both campaigns (Figure
4). These equipments were able to measure horizontal and also vertical currents. Moreover, they
obtained an estimate of pressure and distance to the bottom level. In order to avoid submerging
issues, they were installed approximately 30 cm from the sea bottom. However this distance was
not enough to avoid being submerged during flood tide by a tidal bar. Increasing the initial
distance to the bottom is not a convenient solution because they will be measuring less time.

Figure 4. Submerged ADV during the field experiment.

For that reason, we decided to propose to the equipment manufacture the first challenge: create
a movable ADV. Due to physical characteristics, the ADV is composed by the sensor and three
transducers mounted at the end of a steel arm. One of the possibilities to avoid submerging
problems can be the ability of this arm to move up and down. For that end, the synchronization
with the sensor that tracks the bottom level will allow this arm to enter inside the ADV plastic box,
thereby avoiding submerging issues.
3.2 Measuring IG waves
Infra-gravity waves are waves generated by wave groupiness (Okihiro et al., 1992) or by tidally
moving wave breaking-point (Shemeret et al., 2002). These waves have usually periods between
30 and 300 s. Due to their wavelength (~1 km) the velocity at the surface is very similar to the
velocity near the bottom (Svendsen, 2006). Since they are also generated due to nonlinear

interactions between wind waves, as wind waves increase in amplitude, these IG waves will also
increase. They usually have small amplitudes (10-30% Hs) but their currents might be very large,
especially during storm events. The spectrum from a PT and from an ECM shows this behaviour
(Figure 5). A considerable part of the cross-shore current energy is located at the IG band.

Figure 5. IG (blue) and gravity wave spectrum (red) obtained from PT (left) and ECM (right).

All the equipments deployed were not able to measure directly the IG wave motions. Further
processing of data is therefore required. Here, we proposed the second challenge: the ability to
directly provide the IG waves. Besides ECM, which can be a difficult task to provide these waves,
we are convicted that the ADCP could provide them in a simple way. Both ADCP provided the
wave spectrum every 20 min. This time interval was chosen to assure stationary and statistical
significance of the wave conditions. To provide the IG spectrum, it is just needed to store the
information during 40 min based on the IG analysis performed by Herbers et al. (1995). Then,
every 40 min this equipment could also give the IG wave spectrum. Especially in small bays as in
Gelfa beach these low-frequency motions (IG waves) can play a major role due to the resonance
3.3 Sediment transport during extreme events
Until now, sediment transport is measure in the field trough indirect measurements using optical
backscatter sensors (Miles et al., 2015) or by sediment tracers (Miller and Warrick, 2012). These
methods are not accurate and are influenced by sea-state conditions. It is require new equipment
that provides the sediment transport flux from the sea bottom (bedload) to the sea surface

Figure 6. Beach photo before (top) and after hurricane Sandy (bottom) in Mantoloking, New Jersey.

One of the possibilities can pass through the use of an ADCP that can estimate the sediment
concentration based on the orbital velocities. This corresponds to the third challenge: accurately
measure sediment transport in littoral areas. However, this objective needs to be even more
challenging. The sediment transport is more intense if the external forcing (waves and tidal
currents) increases. This increase usually occurs during extreme events which are characterized
by strong wind and low-pressure conditions. These conditions when combined with spring high
tides cause dune overwash and consequently, dune breaching. It is required an instrument
resistant enough to handle extreme conditions and reliable enough to ubiquitous measure the
sediment transport.
4. Resume
Are the available instruments adequate enough to answer the three proposed challenges: (1) to
have a movable arm to avoid submerging problems; (2) to measure automatically the IG wave
spectrum; and (3) to measure the sediment transport during extreme events.
Thanks are due to all the people that contributed and participated in the field campaign. This research is a
contribution to project RAIA.CO(0520\_RAIA\_CO\_1\_E), Observatrio Marinho da Margem Ibrica e
Litoral, funded by the European Fund for Regional Development (EFDR) through the Programa
Operacional de Cooperao Transfonteiria Espanha-Portugal (POCTEC).
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(CNCG15) Ordem dos Engenheiros. Academia Militar, 29 e 30 de Outubro 2015, Lisboa.
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