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UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering

Currents, Waves and Hawaiian Reefs

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A diver installs three acoustic Doppler velocimeters on the ocean floor on the east side of Palau. The instruments measures water velocity and pressure to assess currents, waves and turbulences.  

San Diego, Calif., Aug. 8 --  A team of researchers is install instruments off the leeward side of Oahu this summer to collect data that will help engineers improve computerized models that simulate how currents and waves behave when they encounter coral reefs. One application of the work will be to help model how storm waves flood tropical coastlines.

One of the researchers leading the effort is Geno Pawlak, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering here at the Jacobs School. Before coming to San Diego this academic year, Pawlak was on faculty at the University of Hawaii. He has continued to work closely with his former colleagues.

“The applications of our research are broad, since the turbulence associated with drag on the ocean’s bed affects how pollutants, nutrients and larvae disperse, as well as temperature,” Pawlak said. “From a basic research perspective, we’re trying to pin down how much energy is lost by currents and waves over rough surfaces like coral reefs. This energy loss turns out to be an important unknown in developing numerical models for currents and waves, particularly for complex environments like coral reefs.”

Divers will deploy some instruments on weighted frames on the ocean floor. Other instruments will be attached to lines that will be anchored to the ocean bed on one end and to a buoy that floats close to the surface of the water on the other. Researchers also will use an autonomous underwater vehicle from the University of Hawaii to map the ocean’s bed and measure the water’s properties, such as temperature.

The work is partially funded by the Office of Naval Research and by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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Media Contacts

Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering
Phone: 858-822-0899
ipatrin@ucsd.edu