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Research overview: initial findings to June 09

Western Australia’s coastal and offshore regions have many types of infrastructure including offshore platforms and pipelines, ports and coastal protection structures. 

 
The design of these structures requires a thorough understanding and prediction of the physical oceanographic processes, particularly under a changing climate. 
 
The waters off WA’s North-West coast – 2000 kilometres along the coast from the North West Cape in the south-west to the Timor Sea in the north-east and 500 to 600 kilometres offshore – are of national strategic significance.
 
The region is also home to the offshore oil and gas industry, one of the most significant components of the state and national economy. Thousands of kilometres of oil and gas pipelines have been laid in this area and thousands more are expected to be laid in the future with projects in new areas.
 
Similarly, regions along the west coast have high population centres – including Geraldton, Perth and Bunbury – where important coastal infrastructure is located.
 
The Western Australian Marine Science Institution has allocated $1.25 million for oceanographic research over five years to understand, quantify and predict the physical oceanographic processes that operate in this highly energetic region of the ocean, and to predict changes in the coastal region under a changing climate
 
Research is ensuring improved safety, reliability and operation in offshore engineering projects, particularly for oil and gas platforms and pipelines. The research will also look at the impacts of loading and natural forces on coastal engineering developments and the community in the region.
 
Research includes studies into shore stabilisation, the effects of sea levels and climate change, tides and internal waves and the effects of cyclones. It links to WAMSI research covering fisheries and ocean movement in Ningaloo Marine Park and ocean water further south.
 
The University of Western Australia is leading the research with major sponsorship and participation by Woodside Energy Limited. UWA is undertaking the work in conjunction with staff from Stanford University (USA), the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Western Australian Global Ocean Observing System (WAGOOS). 
 
UWA is also taking part in wider research activities in conjunction with Woodside Energy, Chevron Pty Ltd, the Western Australian Department of Commerce and the Western Australian node (WAIMOS) of the Australian Integrated Marine Observation System (IMOS).
 
The science plan focuses on research that will improve our understanding of ocean movements and climate change, and the tools needed to improve safety.
 
Projects include:
  • assessing changes to surface wave fields in response to climate change (UWA);
  • assessing storm surge effects under climate change (UWA);
  • studying the impact of climate change on coastal regions (UWA);
  • studying the impact of tides and internal waves in the offshore ocean environment (UWA);
  • assessing the impact of combined effect tidal and cyclonic forcing (UWA; and
  • deploying ocean gliders as part WAIMOS (UWA).
Researchers have:
  • analysed past field observations of internal tides at number sites on North-West Shelf;
  • built laboratory models to study internal tide generation and dynamics;
  • built hybrid numerical models linking global ocean circulation models (BLUElink) with regional scale ocean models (ROMS);
  • developed very high resolution non-hydrostatic numerical ocean models to couple with regional  ocean models;
  • built high resolution benthic boundary layer instruments for ocean measurements diverse sites on North-West Shelf;
  • obtained understanding of internal tide dynamics in southern portions of North-West Shelf; and
  • deployed ocean gliders monitor to obtain near-real time data from the continental shelf and slope regions.
Research results will be used to:
  • provide tools to understand the behaviour of the physical ocean environment on the North-West Shelf;
  • provide tools to predict the behaviour of the physical ocean environment in as yet un-explored ocean regions on the North-West Shelf and elsewhere;
  • predict the effects of climate change on the WA ocean environment on 25 to 50-year timescales; and
  • develop new instruments and technologies to support current and future marine development. 
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