Ocean waves distribute sand along the coast and onto beaches, where it is continuously recycled between surf zone bars, the beach and dunes.
However, the destructive nature of waves is experienced during East Coast Low (ECL) storms, damaging coastal environments, properties and infrastructure. During ECLs, sand is eroded from beaches and moved offshore into surf zone bars, which break waves farther from the shore and ultimately limit destructive wave energy at the beach.
Following storms, constructive waves replenish beaches by transporting the sand back onshore. Depending on the severity and frequency of storms, full beach recovery may take several months to several years.
Department of Planning, Industry and Environment is working to improve our understanding of coastal wave conditions throughout NSW by measuring and modelling waves as they travel from the ocean to the coast.
Bournda National Park Photo: J Spencer/OEH
Garie Beach, Royal National Park Photo: D Finnegan/OEH
The Department manages the NSW Coastal Data Network Program. Data is collected at seven offshore locations along the NSW coast by NSW Public Works Manly Hydraulics Laboratory, and is used by scientists, engineers, government agencies, and the public. Long-term wave records are crucial to understanding regional wave climate variability and the likelihood of extreme conditions.
The distinctive underwater topography at each NSW beach influences waves as they approach the coast, and conditions at one beach may be very different from the next, even at the same time. Department scientists deploy Waverider buoys off beaches and rock platforms to measure waves before they break. The research aims to understand why some locations are more impacted by wave processes and coastal hazards than others.