Australian Coastal Councils Association Inc.

A combined NSW and WA research team has commenced a research project which aims to guide future development of a coastal erosion early warning system.

Dr Mitchell Harley, a senior researcher from the University of NSW involved in the project, said the initial stage of the study involves collecting data on storm impacts. As part of this process the research team monitored the impact of the severe coastal storm which hit Sydney’s northern beaches in mid-February to evaluate how a coastal erosion early warning system would have performed had it had been operational.

Six members of the research team monitored the impact of the storm from the Collaroy Services Beach Club, as waves swept away 25 metres of beach front, leaving sharply defined vertical formations called scarps.

The Bureau of Meteorology said the February storm brought abnormally high tides and strong winds and Sydney’s heaviest rainfall in 20 years.

The storm generated waves up to 6.2 metres in height but was not as severe as the east coast low which caused extensive damage at Collaroy and Narrabeen beaches in June 2016. Drone footage showed waves sweeping up to the foot of houses along the beach where the 2016 destroyed a private swimming pool and caused serious erosion.

The university has operated a permanent monitoring site overlooking the Collaroy Narrabeen beach strip since 2004.

Prof Ian Turner, Director of the Water Research Laboratory at the University of NSW, who leads the research initiative, said the project is aimed at guiding the future development of a system with the capacity to notify coastal communities of a threat of significant erosion as much as a week in advance. 

He told the Sydney Morning Herald that collection of data is key to the success of the three-year project and the February storms had provided a wealth of information.

A wave buoy used by the research team to transmit data to a satellite was dragged several hundred metres offshore during the storm, despite having a 100kg anchor, and briefly stopped transmitting data, which it is programmed to do every 15 minutes.

The research project is being conducted by the University of NSW in partnership with the Bureau of Meteorology, the University of WA, the state governments of NSW and Western Australia, and the United States Geological Survey.

Ian Turner will be making a presentation on the project at the National Forum on Coastal Hazards, at Fremantle Western Australia, on Wednesday 20 May. This will be followed by a presentation by Mitchell Harley on new techniques to collect data on how coastlines are changing.

Later that day Prof Turner and Dr Harley will facilitate a 90-minute workshop to provide an opportunity for forum delegates to make input into the research project.

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