Approximately 10% of people in England live in areas at risk from flooding or coastal erosion. In the absence of man-made defences such as sea walls, the annual damage to property and roads in these areas would exceed £2 billion.
Terry Hedges, from the University's Department of Civil Engineering has produced a computer model to assess volumes of water overtopping sea defences causing flooding, damage to property, roads and in some cases human fatality. His research will identify ways to minimise the amount of damage caused to coastal areas and measure the success of sea defences in protecting land and buildings.
Terry said: "The computer model will allow us to determine combinations of conditions which are dangerous to vehicles, pedestrians and buildings as well as the sea wall itself. We will be able to predict, for example, under what particular wave conditions roads may need to be closed or, in severe circumstances, if people need to be evacuated from nearby areas. It will also allow us to analyse how vulnerable our sea defences are. Our findings may result in sea walls being raised.
"Sea defences are, however, extremely expensive to construct. A kilometre of sea wall can cost up to £10 million and so it is important that we assess just how economical it is to build new defences, when it may be more cost effective to relocate a building or road."
The team's research will also involve constructing small-scale models of sea defences. The team can then create model weather conditions and measure the amount of wave overtopping to assess how the defences can be improved and how surrounding property can be protected.
Terry and his team, in collaboration with colleagues from Japan and Portugal, will use the results of the study to help flood protection agencies worldwide.