High-Tech Wavepool Simulates The Worst Ocean Waves

Preparing ships and structures to weather the weather

Ocean Engineering Facility

Ocean Engineering Facility

Inside the Alfond Ocean Engineering Lab.The University of Maine

Usually, you have to wait 100 years to see how well infrastructure will hold up in a once-in-a-century storm. But not anymore.

At the University of Maine's new Harold Alfond W2 Ocean Engineering Laboratory and Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory at the University of Maine, researchers from academia and industry will be able to test new engineering designs against the most intense ocean conditions.

The $13.8-million facility will be able to test models of different technologies in the pool, which has an adjustable floor that can descend to a depth of 16 feet. Models of ships, offshore wind turbines, and wave energy devices will be put through the ringer with simulated waves and winds strong enough to rival powerful hurricanes.

The Bangor Daily News reports that paddles will push water in the pool to heights of 2 feet--the equivalent of a hurricane-sized 125-foot monster wave to a 1:50 scale model of whatever engineering marvel the laboratory decides to test.

Testing scale models in extreme conditions can give engineers a chance to correct flaws before pouring energy and resources into constructing a full-sized structure.

"We're already getting calls from a lot of wind energy folks. There's no facility that can do this right now," Anthony Viselli, the manager of the facility told the AP.

Other experimental engineering facilities are focused on different aspects of ocean engineering. The US Army Corps of Engineers has a Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory with facilities where researchers can grow ice and test how machinery functions in ice-covered waters. And last month, the Netherlands unveiled a giant machine that can create the largest human-made waves in the world, helping give researchers more insight into tsunamis.