Understanding and predicting ocean weather
Our planet experiences a range of natural disasters including storm surges, bushfires, tsunamis, earthquakes and coastal flooding. An increasing population means the effects of natural disasters often devastating; causing loss of life, financial hardship and displacement of communities.
A research team led by internationally recognised coastal oceanographer Professor Charitha Pattiaratchi, UWA Oceans Institute is using the latest technology to collect data and make predictions about ocean currents, wind and wave climate, sea level variability, weather, beach stability and natural disasters.
Their research has helped communities in Australia and globally in providing early warning systems and mitigating strategies to help communities minimise the effects of a natural disaster.
Their research extends across many fields, with the same goals in mind:
- To better understand how the ocean works and how it impacts on climate, people and coastal infrastructure.
- To keep abreast of technology to help the needs of communities world-wide.
The team uses technologies to observe developments in the ocean state and enable them to help communities and countries all over the world.
|Remote controlled gliders||Transmit high resolution data in real time and in all weather conditions to an open source website: Australian National Facility for Ocean Gliders (ANFOG).|
|Ocean forecasts||Provide routine weather and ocean weather forecasts for Western Australia (coastaloceanography.org)|
|OzROMS regional ocean modelling system||Tests different scenarios and offer accurate predictions for the oceans around Australia and adjacent regions.|
|Australian Coastal Ocean Radar Network (ACORN)||The team host this as part of Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS). They also operate two types of ocean surface radars across six locations in Australia. The Australian Ocean Data Network (AODN) Portal provides surface current measurements in real time.|
Natural disasters and coastal hazards
Following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, Professor Pattiaratchi was involved with developing the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System (IOTWS). Now managed by the Intergovernmental Coordination Group (ICG) the system alerts countries in the region of approaching tsunamis.
“We can expect sea levels to keep rising, with the consequent impact on people living on the coastline.”
A poorly designed residential development at Port Geographe Bay, WA became affected by eroding beaches and 40,000 tonnes of seagrass accumulating close to homes. The team recommended changing the orientation of the development, and since then the area has thrived without issue. This project won the 2011 Kevin Stark Memorial Award for Excellence in Coastal and Ocean Engineering.
The team work with the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre to develop emergency response and disaster management plans. Data from across Australia will help authorities predict coastal floods and storm surges, warn residents of adverse events and even determine which roads to open and close to best protect the community.
Surface drift modelling
Since 2014, as part of the investigation into missing flight MH370, Professor Pattiaratchi has used forensic oceanography to predict where debris would appear. His advice to adventurer Mr Blaine Gibson to search the eastern coast of Mozambique led to the recovery of debris in February 2016 and his later advice to search the northeast part of Madagascar led to a further find in June 2016.
Drift modelling is also used to determine how plastics and objects move along ocean currents. The team are working with a Dutch group called The Ocean Clean Up who are using natural ocean currents to concentrate plastics into artificial coastline spaces. Once collected, the plastics are shipped to land for recycling.
The team were commissioned by the WA Water Corporation to prepare consulting reports into the decline of rainfall in WA as well as the possibility of converting sea water to potable water. On the basis of their research, two desalination plants were built in 2006; Southern Seawater Desalination Plant and Perth Seawater Desalination Plant. Now, 50% of all drinking water in Perth comes from these plants.
In 2008, SA Water commissioned the team who used marine hydrodynamic modelling, as part of feasibility investigations into a possible desalination plant to supply Adelaide.
This team’s research has been key in understanding and predicting the effects of the ocean state, environment and natural disasters on the global community.
Everything we do is to do with the environment, changes to the environment and how that impacts on us
The development of the IOTWS as well as mitigation strategies gives residents in countries bordering the Indian Ocean enough warning to seek safety in the event of a tsunami or severe coastal flooding. This technology will save lives and leads to less hardship following an adverse event.
The team provides governments and policy makers within Australia and around the world with evidence-based research and real-time indicators upon which policies and emergency response plans can be formulated.
- Their research in sea level changes contributed to the development of the Western Australian State Coastal Planning Policy which provides guidelines that determine coastal setback for new developments.
- The research into Australia’s rainfall and climate change led to the WA Water Corporation building two desalination plants and a better future for WA water supplies.
In addition, the effects of the changing coastline, rainfall trends and rising sea levels on population growth provides governments with the modelling and evidence required to ensure liveable coastal areas and improved coastal amenities that benefit the community.
For beach goers and surfers there has been recreational value to the research. In 1999 Professor Pattiaratchi designed the world’s first ever artificial surfing reef at Cable Station, WA. Designed for the improvement of surfing it enhanced an existing reef to break properly and more often.
Professor Pattiaratchi also discovered and named the Capes Current which is a seasonal current at its strongest between Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin. This current has important implications for the salmon fishing industry as it may affect the migration of adult salmon around Cape Leeuwin.
Forensic oceanography, drift modelling and shore-based high frequency (HF) radar systems have been effective in predicting ocean oil spills, pollution and plastics clean up, as well as predicting where debris will end up. For industry and governments, this means quicker response times and considered mitigation strategies.
Professor Pattiaratchi has a strong connection to agencies in other countries and provides information and advice on a range of matters from tsunami response and early warning systems, cyclonic predictions, missing flight MH370 to the future development of shipping ports in the Caspian Sea. The impact of this research is far reaching and affects communities globally.