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Vulnerable coastlines could be protected with fake floating forests

Posted June 4, 2019

Natural disasters are dangerous to people and property, but they are also extremely damaging to natural shorelines and beaches. Strong winds, rain and waves eat away at beaches, which causes accumulative damage. Sooner or later sea is reclaiming territory of the cities or coastline forests. However, now engineers at the University of Queensland developed a “Floating forest” idea, which could be used to protect vulnerable shorelines during strong storms.

Huge waves and strong wind can quickly destroy the shoreline and its infrastructure. Image credit: Christian Ferrer via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

One problem, of course, is beach erosion. Beaches are important for people as well as the wildlife. However, an even bigger  issue is destruction of infrastructure, houses and other building. There is so much to protect on these busy shorelines both natural and man-made. This is why engineers created these floating forests – a structure of horizontal concrete arches, made to dissipate energy of the waves. Of course, there would be no actual forests. Instead, arrays of hollow column tubes would form the “trees” that would protect the shoreline from the strong winds. Scientists say that this is the first structure of its kind, placing windbreakers on top of floating breakwater structure.

Wavebreakers are already in use near many beaches in the world. However, their effects are rather limited and rare but powerful natural disasters are able to overcome these man-made obstacles. Furthermore, up until now there has been nothing that could break the wind too – this “floating forest” is the first to combine these two functions of protection. The structure itself would be around one kilometre long with the tubes standing at 20 metres tall. The “trees” could be made of real vegetation, but that would be difficult to maintain. That is why engineers prefer to build the tubes out of plastic and concrete. The “forest” would be effective at dissipating the wind almost as a real forest and, as initial tests have shown, they would be durable as well.

The trees of the floating forest would be made from plastic and concrete – they would be breaking the wind. Image credit: University of Queensland

Scientists already built scale models for lab testing and it went well.  Professor Chien Ming Wang, one of the scientist behind the project, said: “We hope that a smaller version may be constructed in places that are hit by strong cyclone seasons, such as Bangladesh, Mozambique, Taiwan and the Philippines”. This invention is patented, which would make it easier to commercialize the idea and share it with coastal communities worldwide. Of course, before a wider use of these devices is achieved, scientists hope to create smaller test models.

“Floating forest” is a great idea, combining wind and wave breaking to protect vulnerable shorelines. Time will show if it will be good enough to convince industry leaders and coastal communities to actually start building these structures. However, natural disasters are already convincing enough – we need solutions like this.


Source: University of Queensland

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