Twenty years ago this month, a unique research facility was opened at HR Wallingford’s facilities in Oxfordshire, UK. The UK Coastal Research Facility (UKCRF) gave engineers and scientists access to an experimental facility to investigate the complex interaction of waves, currents, sediments and coastal structures. It also sparked a fruitful 20-year collaboration between HR Wallingford’s Professor Richard Whitehouse and University College London’s Professor Richard Simons. With new experimental facilities under construction at HR Wallingford, the foundations are in place to secure another two decades of successful collaboration.
Richard Whitehouse and Richard Simons know first-hand the value of long term collaboration in experimental research. They first worked together in 1991 in the “Hippo Tank” at HR Wallingford looking at forces created on the seabed by waves and currents. This early work set the theme for much of their subsequent collaboration, later cemented when the Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC)* and HR Wallingford jointly funded the UKCRF, opened in November 1993. The unique large laboratory facility was managed by Richard Whitehouse; Richard Simons was the first chair of the Academic User Group representing the interests of university research groups across the UK.
The managed programme of research using the UKCRF, funded initially by the Council, and later by the European Community, set the direction for academic collaboration between many universities, generating benchmark datasets and high class journal publications. Richard Whitehouse is keen to highlight its impact: “It’s fair to say that work centred on the UKCRF has delivered significant advances in our understanding of the complex coastal environment. It also cemented many research partnerships and developed the skills of several generations of young researchers. This has without a doubt been of lasting value to the coastal engineering community in the UK”
Richard Simons adds: “Access to the large facilities at HR Wallingford has allowed coastal engineering research in the UK to extend beyond the physical constraints normally imposed on university facilities. More importantly, working with Richard Whitehouse and his colleagues has provided a practical context and direction to our projects, providing a stimulating environment for early career researchers that brings together the complementary strengths of industry and academe.”
Whilst the managed programme of research is no longer running, the facility itself is still going strong and is in constant demand for HR Wallingford’s research and consultancy studies.
Two decades on from the opening of the UKCRF, Professors Whitehouse and Simons are still working together to push forward the boundaries in the field of coastal engineering. “There are still so many exciting and interesting topics to research” explains Professor Whitehouse. “These days the wave and current work also tackles problems involving sediment transport and scour. The combination of end-user focus and high quality experimental research is beneficial to both HR Wallingford and UCL. We are investigating scour in mixed and layered sands, scour at subsea structures and offshore gravity base foundations, and new work on wave-current interaction. Even with the advance of high end computational modelling there is still a place for well-conceived large scale experimental research.”
The research partners are eagerly anticipating the launch in 2014 of an ambitious large Wave-Current-Sediment Flume, currently under construction at HR Wallingford’s facilities in Oxfordshire. The new world-class facility will allow HR Wallingford’s scientists and engineers to solve complex water related engineering consultancy projects at a larger scale than is currently possible. It will also provide a step-change in the facilities available for wave-current-sediment research for Professor Simons and other university research groups, helping them to tackle today’s key research questions in fluvial, coastal and maritime engineering and renewable energy.
“Laboratory experiments still have a vital role in developing new knowledge and understanding required to develop sustainable engineering projects” concludes Richard Whitehouse. “I expect the new facility at HR Wallingford to attract networks of established researchers over the next two decades, providing a proving ground for skills of the next generations of engineers.”