STORMLAMP – A research project measuring the impact of waves on historic rock mounted lighthouses

Author: Eve Allen

STORMLAMP is a research project that monitors and measures the impact of waves on the structural performance of lighthouses.

The project began in May 2016 and has focused on six lighthouses spread across the British Isles. These lighthouses were selected due to the particularly extreme wave environments that surround them and their unique structural elements or operational issues.

The STORMLAMP project is a great example of how engineering can benefit communities, trade and heritage. Historic rock-mounted lighthouses continue to play an essential role in the safe navigation around perilous reefs. However, their longevity is threatened by the battering of waves which may be set to increase with climate change. Virtual navigational aids such as GPS are fallible, and reliance on them can be disastrous. Mariners will continue to need lighthouses as these physical visual aids are strategically placed to assist navigation. The loss of any reef lighthouse will be incalculable in terms of safety, commerce and heritage.

A person stood on a helipad by the coast flies a drone.
James Bassitt (University of Exeter) operating Phantom drone from helipad at Fastnet Lighthouse

This complex project requires a unique combination of skills available from three UK universities: University College London (UCL), University of Exeter and University of Plymouth.

Three people sit in knee deep water in the COAST laboratory simulator. A model lighthouse at scale 1:40 is in the foreground.
Alison Raby (University of Plymouth), Dassa Dassanayake (University of Plymouth), Peter Dobson (Trinity House) in the COAST Laboratory at University of Plymouth.

University of Plymouth works on predicting extreme storm conditions for offshore rock lighthouses using long-term metoceanic data. Plymouth also carries out physical tests using scale models of lighthouses and uses Computational Fluid Dynamics modelling to identify how wave loading interacts with these rock structures. University of Exeter accesses the lighthouses for installing monitoring systems and performing modal analysis in order to identify the structural characteristics of the lighthouses. Finally, UCL uses the data produced from the other two universities to carry out detailed structural analysis to assess how resilient the lighthouses are under extreme wave impacts.

One of the lighthouses STORMLAMP is investigating is Wolf Rock, which lies about 8 miles from Land’s End. The tower is built upon a rocky pinnacle which is completely obscured at high tide and was selected for long-term monitoring by STORMLAMP due to the unbroken Atlantic waves it encounters. It’s one of the larger towers in the project at 41m and was built in 1869. As with many of the lighthouses access is via helicopter, landing on the helideck at the top of the tower. Modal testing took place in 18 July 2016 and James Bassitt, based at University of Exeter took some fantastic footage from the helicopter flight to Wolf Rock.

A sequence of five images show tests conducted on the 1:40 scale model lighthouse.
Wave impact tests with the 1:40 scale model of Wolf Rock lighthouse in the COAST Laboratory at the University of Plymouth

As the four-year project comes to a close, a final workshop is planned for May 2020 to showcase the STORMLAMP research to a wider audience. The workshop will involve presentations on lighthouse research and relevant areas from academics, heritage professionals and industry stakeholders, as well as discussions on future directions for related research.

To find out more about the project and the lighthouses STORMLAMP has been working with, visit the  website. There are plenty more pictures of the team in action and details of our partners and of course the lighthouses themselves.

https://stormlamp.org.uk/ 

@stormlamp_edu

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