Wave Basin Experiments Of Wave-Driven Hydrodynamics Over Submerged Coastal Structures And Artificial Reefs


  • RENAN F. DA SILVA University of Western Australia, Australia
  • RYAN J. LOWE University of Western Australia, Australia
  • JEFF E. HANSEN University of Western Australia, Australia
  • ALEX ATKINSON Queensland Government Hydraulic Laboratory
  • NICK NADERI Queensland Government Hydraulic Laboratory




Artificial reefs, wave basin tests, wave-driven flows, wave runup, wave-reef interactions


Submerged coastal structures, such as submerged breakwaters and artificial reefs, modify incident wave fields and alter a wide range of nearshore hydrodynamic processes. Submerged breakwaters are usually designed for a singular function of wave attenuation; whereas nature-based artificial reef structures aim to both attenuate wave energy while enhancing ecosystem services, including the creation of habitat for marine organisms and the promotion of biodiversity. However, to date the application of artificial reefs has remained more limited due to the poorer understanding of how reefs influence key nearshore processes that determine their effectiveness.

Existing research on submerged breakwaters has mostly focused on quantifying the wave transmission, which is ratio between the incident wave energy onshore and offshore of the reefs (e.g., van Gent 2023). The wave transmission coefficient has conventionally served as a primary design criterion related to the effectiveness of reefs in offering coastal protection. However, a meta-analysis of the shoreline response to constructed submerged breakwaters found that in the majority of cases erosion occurred in their lee (Ranasinghe and Turner., 2006), which demonstrates our limited knowledge on how reefs modify coastal processes.

Wave-reef interactions can lead to the generation of mean (wave-averaged) currents and water levels (setup). Numerical modelling studies have found that two and four-cell mean circulation patterns can develop in response to changes to the wave field caused by submerged structures (Ranasinghe et al., 2006, da Silva et al., 2022). A two-cell circulation is characterized by diverging currents behind the reefs and at the shoreline, which could lead to an erosive shoreline. In contrast, a four-cell circulation is characterized by diverging currents in the immediate lee but converging currents at the shoreline, which would result in beach accretion. While these modelling studies advanced the understanding of how reefs influence shoreline hydrodynamics, the absence of comprehensive experimental observations replicating submerged coastal structures has hindered their rigorous validation.

Here we present the findings of an extensive set of 3D wave basin experiments that were designed to investigate the detailed wave-driven hydrodynamics around submerged coastal structures subject to a range of wave conditions, water levels and reef layouts.




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