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Modelling extreme wave-current conditions and their interaction with offshore renewable energy systems

Project Description

Extreme wave conditions determine survivability of offshore renewable energy platforms. The effect of currents has received little attention to date but is known to affect extreme wave characteristics. The aim of this project is to model wave-current interaction including breaking waves using a combination of advanced numerical and experimental techniques. Particular attention will be given to the use of smoothed particle hydrodynamics (SPH), a particle method well suited to simulating highly distorted and two-phase (water/air) flows which is revolutionising engineering computation.

There exists a vast global offshore renewable energy resource in the form of wind, waves and tidal currents. The exploitation of this resource has the potential to reduce global carbon emissions and enable governments to meet stringent renewable energy and decarbonisation targets. For Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) systems to successfully extract this resource, they must be designed to withstand the large hydrodynamic loads associated with extreme ocean events. For locations pertinent to ORE deployment, these extreme conditions often consist of complex combinations of (potentially breaking) waves and currents.
In order to properly design ORE systems to withstand such extreme conditions it is necessary to understand the nature of their formation, and be able to model the conditions and their interaction with ORE systems. At present, however, the modelling – either numerically or physically – of extreme & breaking waves in the presence of a current remains a significant challenge.

Scaled physical testing is often utilised to understand more about wave-current-machine interaction as all key physics can be effectively reproduced. However, facilities able to create such conditions are scarce and there are still difficulties in the practical generation and validation of high quality complex wave-current conditions (see e.g. [1][2]). Numerical modelling is able to overcome some of these problems, yet commonly utilised models struggle to capture the full complexity of the conditions. Recently, the Lagrangian-based smoothed particle hydrodynamics (SPH) approach has shown significant promise for these scenarios and has proved highly effective at modelling extreme & breaking waves and their interaction with offshore structures [3][4]. A significant amount of validation (and potentially development) work is required before this approach can be routinely adopted as a design tool, particularly for cases where there is a current.

Project outline:
This project will use state-of-the-art numerical and physical modelling techniques to increase the understanding of the interaction between extreme wave-current conditions and ORE systems. Real ocean datasets will be utilised to ensure the extreme conditions modelled are representative of those experienced by ORE. The PhD student will be integrated into the world-leading SPH team at the University of Manchester, and have access to the unique wide combined wave-current flume to carry out experimental work.

Key research aims may include:
1. Validating the use of smoothed particle hydrodynamics for the creation of combined wave-current fields.
2. Validating the use of smoothed particle hydrodynamics for modelling wave breaking in the presence of current
3. Create methodologies for the scaled physical re-creation of extreme waves in the presence realistic turbulent currents
4. Use validated experimental and numerical tools to identify which extreme wave-current conditions are most problematic for fixed and floating ORE systems. Specific applications may include:
a. Quantifying peak mooring forces on floating wind/wave energy devices in extreme wave-current conditions
b. Assessing load magnification induced from breaking waves on ORE systems, and the subsequent influence of current on this phenomenon
c. Quantifying the wave run-up on fixed offshore wind turbines in the presence of current to inform design of access platforms

The project would be ideally suited to a student with a strong quantitative background in engineering, mathematics or physical sciences. Under the guidance of the expert supervisory team, the student will gain experience in metocean data interrogation and numerical & physical modelling of waves, currents and ORE systems. As such, the successful candidate should have a keen interest in each of these areas. Through the project the student will be operating across a range of exciting research areas, and have the opportunity to engage with a variety of academic and industrial partners on parallel projects.

Areas of Expertise: MACEOffshore, MACESPH, MACEStructures

Funding Notes

Funding is offered through The School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering (MACE) for a PhD with flexibility available about the entry point. The duration of the studentship is for 3 years and will cover both Home/EU tuition fees and a stipend to cover living costs at the RCUK-standard rate.

Further information about how to apply can be found at: View Website

General enquiries relating to the postgraduate application process within the School of Mechanical, Aerospace & Civil Engineering should be directed to:

Martin Lockey, Senior PG Recruitment & Admissions Administrator (E-mail: , Tel: +44(0)161 275 4345)


[1] S. Draycott, A. Nambiar, B. Sellar, T. Davey, and V. Venugopal, “Assessing extreme loads on a tidal turbine using focused wave groups in energetic currents,” Renew. Energy, vol. 135, pp. 1013–1024, 2019.
[2] S. Draycott, J. Steynor, T. Davey, and D. M. Ingram, “Isolating Incident and Reflected Wave Spectra in the Presence of Current,” Coast. Eng. J., no. 1992, 2018.
[3] M. H. Dao, H. Xu, E. S. Chan, and P. Tkalich, “Numerical modelling of extreme waves by Smoothed Particle Hydrodynamics,” Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 419–429, 2011.
[4] A. D. Chow, B. D. Rogers, S. J. Lind, and P. K. Stansby, “Numerical wave basin using incompressible smoothed particle hydrodynamics (ISPH) on a single GPU with vertical cylinder test cases,” Comput. Fluids, vol. 179, pp. 543–562, 2019.

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