What is NEMO?
In short, NEMO is a research project which aims to make significant advances in our ability to forecast the shape of our coast in the coming decades. The project is lead by Delft University of Technology, under the supervision of Professor Marcel Stive. The name NEMO is actually a short version of the full project title: ‘Nearshore Monitoring and Modelling: Inter-scale Coastal Behavior’.
Coastal zones around the world are the places where most of the world’s population lives, where most of the economy is located, and where most of the trade occurs. Future coastal hazards, which are likely to be exacerbated by climate change, will result in massive socio-economic and environmental impacts. Therefore, it is crucial to know how human interventions or natural hazards will impact the shape and location of these coasts.
The problem is that at our coast, there are many different processes all going on at the same time at sea, in the surf zone, on the beach, and in the dunes. In the water column we see the effect of waves, swell, storms, tides, salt water, fresh water, and biological activity, just to name a few. These processes can have time scales of mere seconds, such as a single wave, or have time scales of centuries, such as sea level rise. The same is true for the spatial scale. Some features we see on a beach have a length of mere centimeters or even smaller, like ripples or sand grains. However, these features all add up to a coast of hundreds of kilometers.
We could try to incorporate all these processes into one model, and this has been done before. However, this leads to bulky, complicated models, which may be able to give valuable forecasts on short time scales, but which are unable to say anything with confidence about the coast on longer time scales.
The part of knowledge which is still missing is understanding which processes are actually important, and which processes are there, but do not influence the way in which the coast is heading.
The aim of this research is to gain unprecedented insights into the complex processes in natural coastal environments, and to use these insights to develop, test, and use an innovative new physics-based model capable of providing robust forecasts of large scale, long term coastal change.
Apparently, there are many different processes going on at the same time. In order to see what each process is doing (or not doing,) we first need to measure as many processes as we can. That is why at the heart of this research lies an intensive measurement campaign along a stretch of Dutch coast. The goal is to simultaneously measure surf zone topography, beach position, dune profiles, current speeds, local wave heights, and even sediment transports with a resolution as high as we can.
The Dutch coast is particularly suitable for this research, because this coast has been monitored closely for more than a century. As a result, there is a huge amount of data from other measurements available. What also makes this stretch of Dutch coast suitable are a couple of large-scale human interventions. These interventions, such as the so-called ‘Sand Engine’, should make it easier to distinguish between certain processes, which would otherwise be hard to observe.