Status of Education and Research in the United States
Introduction and Background
Coastal construction early in the nation's history was primarily to provide harbors and navigation. Breakwaters and jetties were built by civil engineers to provide safe havens for ships and to protect navigational channels. Along the shoreline, groins and sea walls were built to protect property, and marshes were drained and filled to provide habitable or arable land and to reduce mosquito populations. Trade, shipbuilding, and fishing were major industries along the coast, and towns and cities grew up to support these industries.
Coastal structures were designed and built using time-tested methods that protected navigational channels and harbors from waves and sand infilling. The erosion of shorelines caused by sand being trapped or diverted offshore was frequent. However, the long-term welfare of adjacent beaches and the conservation of the sand resource were not design considerations at that time, as beaches were considered to have little intrinsic value. The breakwater for Santa Barbara, California, built between 1927 and 1930, is a classic example of the unintended consequences of building a harbor without concern for coastal processes, causing beach erosion for many miles downdrift.
As the nation became more affluent, people began to seek out beaches for recreation, and the value of beaches increased. Some beaches were even created to meet the public demand, such as the 2,400-acre Jones Beach1 in New York
City, which was created in 1929 by dredge fill and which still serves the recreational needs of New Yorkers. Coastal communities and towns grew in size to meet the needs of beachgoers for amenities and services. They later attracted new residents, particularly retirees and those who could afford vacation homes. Ancillary erosion caused by the increased number of coastal structures led to the establishment of the Beach Erosion Board in 1930 to begin research into coastal processes and design procedures for protecting the shoreline from erosion and from inappropriately designed structures. The Beach Erosion Board became the Coastal Engineering Research Board in 1963, an advisory board to USACE.
The recognition that engineering at the shoreline required specialized knowledge of coastal processes gave rise to research projects at universities, such as those undertaken at the University of California, Berkeley, beginning in the late 1940s, under the direction of M.P. O'Brien. Eventually graduate programs in coastal engineering were established at several universities, with the first program being established in 1967 at the University of Florida. Today, more than 20 institutions around the nation offer graduate education in coastal engineering.
The number of trained coastal engineers has increased over the past 30 years, along with the awareness of problems caused by the lack of attention to coastal processes during the design and construction of coastal projects. Coastal engineers now assist, or have sometimes supplanted, civil engineers on many coastal construction projects.
The state of Florida can be considered a bellwether in terms of the growing demand for expertise in coastal engineering. Florida is a prime tourist destination for beachgoers. It is also an area that is highly susceptible to hurricanes. As a result, state and local agencies have developed elaborate construction setback requirements to ensure appropriate development along the shoreline. Florida has more than 1,300 kilometers of sandy shorelines, with 56 inlets (not counting the Keys), which account for much of the beach erosion in the state.
The number of graduates of the University of Florida with M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in coastal engineering has grown steadily since the program's inception in 1967 (Mehta, 1996). By 1995, more than 110 M.S. and 50 Ph.D. degrees had been granted. There has been a concomitant growth in the number of coastal engineering firms in the state: one new coastal engineering firm has been founded in Florida every two years since 1975, while the state's population grew from 8 million to 13 million (Mehta, 1996).
Coastal engineers in Florida are working at the state, county, and federal levels. The state of Florida now employs about 20 people who are practicing coastal engineering in the Department of Environmental Protection (Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems). Coastal county governments also have coastal engineers on staff: Martin County has two, and Indian River, Palm Beach, Sarasota, Broward, and Dade counties have one each. USACE employs 8 to 12 trained coastal engineers in the Jacksonville District. The U.S. Geological Survey employs three coastal engineers in their coastal office in St. Petersburg. Altogether, about 140 coastal engineers are
working in Florida, about half of whom are civil engineers working as coastal engineers. Nationally, the number of coastal engineers is small, but growing.
At the federal level, USACE has hired coastal engineers in its district offices around the country and at the Coastal Engineering Research Center (now Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory [CHL]) at the Waterways Experiment Station (WES) in Vicksburg, Mississippi. In 1985, the shortage of qualified coastal engineers and the small amount of funds for research and development prompted the chief of engineers at the 44th meeting of the Coastal Engineering Research Board to call for USACE to train its own coastal engineers (Heiberg, 1986). These remarks led to the establishment of two educational programs at USACE's WES to provide graduate education for USACE personnel. At the time, Dr. C.C. Mei, a member of the Coastal Engineering Research Board, suggested that joint research projects with academic institutions would provide an alternative means of educating students and developing research capabilities in the country (Mei, 1986).
As the complexity and importance of coastal engineering problems has increased, the education of coastal engineers has become increasingly important to the nation, as has the amount of funding available for research to develop a better understanding of coastal processes and to provide innovative solutions to coastal problems. In this chapter, the state of coastal engineering education and research are examined.
The committee conducted a survey of individuals and universities to assess academic programs and research capabilities in coastal engineering. The survey included questions about the content of relevant programs, the numbers of students and faculty, teaching and research facilities, and employment opportunities. The answers were average figures for the last five years. A copy of the survey and the tabulated responses are included in Appendix B. The survey was sent to individuals and distributed over ''coastal_list"2 an email list specifically for coastal engineers and scientists, which has more than 800 members worldwide. Individuals from 19 institutions in the United States responded to the survey.
The first courses in coastal engineering in the United States were offered at the University of Florida, the University of California, Berkeley, and Texas A&M University. Over the next 30 years, both graduate and undergraduate programs were developed at about 20 institutions across the country, most of which evolved from civil engineering programs. Some schools have combined coastal and ocean engineering into a single program, while others have focused on one or the other.
Coastal engineering is predominantly a graduate degree program. Only four institutions have undergraduate programs: the United States Naval Academy, Texas A&M University, Stevens Institute of Technology (New Jersey), and Florida Institute of Technology. At all of these institutions, coastal engineering is an option in the ocean engineering program; none of them offers an undergraduate degree specifically in coastal engineering. An average of 75 students per year graduate from the four institutions combined. The graduates of the Naval Academy, who make up more than 50 percent of the total, typically go on to military careers and rarely appear in the coastal engineering civilian sector after completing their service obligation.
The undergraduate courses include wave mechanics, coastal processes, the design of coastal structures, ocean engineering, geology, tidal hydrodynamics, and complementary courses in engineering and oceanography. Nonmilitary graduates are employed by private engineering firms, industry (typically offshore), and state and federal agencies. The remaining students continue their studies in graduate school.
All 19 institutions that responded to the survey indicated that they offer graduate programs in coastal engineering. However, only the University of Florida offers a degree that specifically refers to coastal engineering (coastal and oceano-graphic engineering). The other institutions offer degrees in ocean, civil, or environmental engineering. On an average annual basis, these institutions reported that they confer a total of 65 M.S. and 22 Ph.D. degrees from their designated coastal engineering programs. The survey indicated that about 30 percent of the graduating masters students enter doctoral programs at other institutions. About 30 percent of M.S. and Ph.D. graduates are employed in private engineering practice. The rest are employed by state or federal agencies. USACE also has two programs for training coastal engineers, one at WES, in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and a cooperative program with Texas A&M University.
Providing financial support for graduate students is an important element in maintaining a viable degree program. Although the numbers vary considerably from one institution to another, approximately 80 percent of the masters degree students and more than 90 percent of the doctoral students receive financial support, mostly through research contracts.
With fewer than 90 students earning graduate degrees annually, coastal engineering is one of the smallest engineering disciplines in the United States. By way of comparison, the number of graduate degrees in civil and environmental engineering is estimated to be approximately 6,000 per year (Engineering Workforce Commission, 1997).
Graduate courses in coastal engineering include wave theory, coastal processes, the design of coastal structures, ocean engineering, estuarine mechanics, tidal hydrodynamics, the dynamics of offshore structures, water quality modeling, sediment transport, ocean acoustics, coastal geology, and marine geotechnology. The committee noted that in spite of an established need for coastal engineers with a background in port and harbor design, these subjects are not included in the curriculum of any of these programs. Furthermore, despite the growing need for coastal engineers to deal with a complexity of environmental issues, no courses in wetlands ecology, coastal geology, environmental management, or assessing environmental impacts are being offered.
The 19 institutions that responded to the survey have approximately 50 full-time faculty positions, either in coastal engineering or in related programs. Generally, each institution has one or two coastal engineers on the faculty. Only four institutions (the University of Florida, Texas A&M University, the University of Delaware, and Stevens Institute of Technology) had more than three full-time faculty positions in coastal engineering, accounting for 40 percent of the total.
According to the survey, only three institutions have plans to add new or replacement faculty in the near future. The allocation of faculty positions is based partly on available research support, which limits the number of graduate students that can be supported. Thus, maintaining sufficient faculty to meet national needs in coastal engineering is closely linked to budgets supporting academic research. The figures suggest that the natural attrition of the present faculty is likely to lead to a decrease in the number of faculty positions, a decrease in graduate enrollments, and eventually, a loss of degree granting programs.
The orderly growth of this national educational capability will be complicated by the advanced age of present faculty. In the four largest coastal engineering programs, with a total of 21 faculty members, only one is an assistant professor, and there are no associate professors. The committee believes that these numbers are representative of the entire community. Although retirement is not mandated at a given age, a substantial number of faculty will be leaving the profession in the near future, and replacements for them are uncertain. Unless there is more support for research and for research and teaching facilities, scarce university resources are likely to be allocated to other programs.
Only a few of the institutions that responded to the survey have made significant commitments to continuing education in coastal engineering. Texas A&M has a well established program in dredging that is offered on a regular
schedule. Annual enrollments average 45 students. Other programs offer occasional extension courses.
In general, coastal engineering lags behind other engineering disciplines in the area of continuing education. This may reflect the small number of engineers working in the field and, hence, the absence of a critical mass of students at any one location. This obstacle could be overcome as distance learning improves. Many universities are actively exploring new technologies for distance learning, including closed circuit TV, satellite, and web-based education. Thus, in the future, coastal engineers may have access to continued education without having to leave their places of employment. Improvements in distance-learning technologies may also benefit students in small academic programs by making courses available from universities with more comprehensive programs.
Coastal engineering is an evolving field, and many aspects of coastal processes are still unknown. Research in coastal processes leads to, among other things, better designs of coastal structures at the shoreline and to better predictions of the future of shorelines. One of the goals of coastal engineering is to predict the behavior of the coast as a function of time, from a timescale of hours and days (as in response to a coastal storm) to a timescale of years (as in response to coastal structures or other shoreline modifications, such as beach fill). Two examples of the benefits of research are described below.
The prevailing method of treating coastal erosion is beach nourishment, which involves placing new sand on beaches. The amount of material to be used and the lifetime of a project depend on the design of the beach-fill geometry. Research to date has shown that the lifetime of the beach is increased with larger fills and by using sand that is similar to or coarser than the native sand. Appropriate fills can substantially reduce the cost to the public (NRC, 1995).
Post-storm reconnaissance surveys taken after hurricanes Elena, Gilbert, and Hugo, which struck in Florida, Mexico, and South Carolina, respectively, showed that structures designed to modern coastal engineering standards resisted major structural damage (Dean, 1991b).
Benefits of research could accrue in many other areas in the future. For example, based on the immense volume of material dredged annually, any significant reduction in the cost per cubic meter of dredged material will result in large savings. Also, a better understanding of the currents and waves in the nearshore zone will ensure a safer environment for amphibious landings and for LOTS. These benefits would also accrue to the general public. Finally, better designs for sand-bypass systems could substantially reduce the costs of erosion downdrift of tidal inlets.
Throughout its history, the backbone of coastal engineering in the United States has been academic research. Much of the fundamental science and many of
the models used by practicing coastal engineers were developed in national and international academic institutions. However, funding for research in coastal engineering in the United States is poorly coordinated.
Most federal support for coastal engineering research and education comes from three agencies, USACE, the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and Sea Grant. NSF also provides minor support. Although USACE has the largest budget for research, most of its funds are spent internally; only about 10 percent is used to support education. Funds from ONR are almost entirely devoted to academic research, as are all of the Sea Grant and NSF funds. The preponderance of ONR funding is for coastal sciences. The U.S. Geological Survey supports academic research in coastal science but not coastal engineering as defined in this report. On occasion, other agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Army Research Office, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have supported research for specific coastal engineering projects, but none of these agencies provides significant ongoing support.
The USACE, ONR, Sea Grant, and NSF provided the committee with dollar amounts of their support for academic research in coastal engineering since 1985, and the committee's assessment of the level of support for academic research is based on these figures.3 Overall support for coastal engineering research by the federal government since 1985 is shown in Figure 2-1. The USACE (the leading government agency) budget for coastal engineering is also shown, for comparison. (These support levels have been adjusted to constant 1996 dollars.)
Support for academic research in coastal engineering and coastal sciences by the four principal funding agencies (ONR, NSF, Sea Grant, and USACE) from 1985 through 1998 is shown in Figure 2-2. This figure shows that ONR is now the most important source of funding for academic research, having surpassed Sea Grant in the early part of this decade, and that NSF provides the least funding. Figure 2-3 shows the cumulative funding for academic research (the total of funds shown in Figure 2-2). As Figure 2-3 shows, the underlying level of federal support (in constant dollars) for academic research has decreased from $5 million to $3 million per year since 1985. Note that a substantial portion of these funds is for coastal engineering-related activities, such as nearshore oceanography and marine geology, rather than for research on coastal engineering.
The federal government provides approximately $11 million per year for all research on coastal engineering—academic and nonacademic. Of this, USACE receives about two-thirds of the total, including about $1 million for the Field
Since the release of the report in a prepublication version (April 13, 1999), corrected data has been provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to replace previous data, which included funding for internal agency activities that should not have been included in the research budget. All the data has now been adjusted to 1996 dollars and is reflected in Figures 2-1, 2-2, and 2-3. Text describing the figures has been revised accordingly.
Research Facility (FRF) at Duck, North Carolina. The amount available for USACE's research is about $7 million, about twice the national total for academic research.
It is interesting to compare the funding for research in coastal engineering in the United States to funding in the European Common Market, which created the Marine Science and Technology Program (MAST) in 1989. The present MAST 1114 receives 240 million ECU (about $266 million) per year. Approximately 20 percent of these funds (about $50 million per year) is spent on research in coastal engineering at academic institutions in the Common Market countries. This level of financial support is more than 12 times the current level of support for academic research in the United States. Research topics include the mechanics of sediment transport, the mechanics of surf and swash zones, modeling of coastal evolution, beach nourishment, wave forces on structures, and the probabilistic design of breakwaters.
Each MAST project5 is carried out by a consortium of European universities and laboratories, which provides a mechanism for pooling talent and spreading expertise across national boundaries. As a result of MAST funds, scientific capability all across the European Union and research equipment at these institutions has improved significantly.
Another feature of European coastal engineering has been the close collaboration of universities with large, now-private laboratories. Two prominent examples are the collaboration between the Technical University of Delft (T.U. Delft) and Delft Hydraulics, whose team of coastal engineers has made significant contributions to the development of coastal engineering. Their success is partly attributable to their connection with T.U. Delft, where many of the engineers were trained. Several of the engineers from Delft Hydraulics have academic appointments at T.U. Delft.
The second example is the Danish Hydraulic Institute (DHI) and the Technical University of Denmark (T.U. Denmark). DHI is a major consulting company that competes successfully worldwide for major coastal engineering projects. The company has close ties with T.U. Denmark, hiring their graduates and working collaboratively with the faculty. Much of the scientific base of their suite of coastal engineering numerical models was developed in conjunction with faculty from T.U. Denmark.
The success of Delft Hydraulics and the DHI is clearly related to their collaboration with leading academic programs in coastal engineering research. There are no equivalent collaborations in the United States.
Based on the survey of academic institutions, 19 schools have teaching facilities in coastal engineering, but only a few have extensive research-type facilities: the University of Delaware (Center for Applied Coastal Research, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering); the University of Florida (Department of Coastal and Oceanographic Engineering); Texas A&M University (Department of Civil Engineering); and Oregon State University (O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory, Department of Civil Engineering). These facilities include two- and three-dimensional wave basins and harbor modeling facilities,
dredging-simulation capabilities, and sediment-transport tanks. Several other institutions have smaller facilities. None of these facilities can be described as state of the art in terms of instrumentation and/or experimental capabilities.
Sophisticated laboratories and field resources are indispensable to high quality education and research in coastal engineering. However, the costs of advanced research facilities, including the cost of regular maintenance and full-time staff support, have prevented many institutions from acquiring and maintaining these facilities. Laboratory facilities should include wave tanks and basins, as well as the sensors and data-acquisition systems required to support them. Most of the institutions that responded to the committee's survey have small wave tanks or basins, but only a few have made substantial investments in the large facilities necessary for most current research. Twelve of the 19 programs have wave tanks longer than 30 meters, and eight have wave basins wider than 10 meters. Oregon State University is the only one with a very large wave tank (more than 100 meters long).
The University of Florida's coastal engineering laboratory was the first in the world to include a wave tank with an air-sea capability and the first in the United States with a broad range of facilities to address a variety of coastal problems. These facilities included a "snake"-type wave generator in a wave basin that can generate waves from a single but arbitrary direction. Of the 56 inlets in Florida, engineering solutions to more than 12 inlets have been developed in this facility. Nevertheless, because minimal investments have been made in this laboratory over the past two decades, it has now become outdated. Modernization of the facility is required for basic research and for investigations of current coastal engineering problems.
In addition to wave tanks and basins, both teaching and research activities require sophisticated measurement and data-acquisition systems. These devices are expensive to acquire and maintain, and, because of the rapid evolution of measurement technologies, they often become outdated in a relatively short time. Flow-measurement equipment, for example, has evolved from propeller meters and hot film/wire to acoustic and laser Doppler and particle-image velocimetry in just a few years. These more sophisticated technologies provide much better results but are more difficult to use and more expensive to buy and maintain (often requiring dedicated computers).
Several of the institutions surveyed have limited field-research capabilities, but only a few (such as the University of Florida) have made a substantial investment in vessels and field-measurement systems. In several cases, this equipment is either shared with, or borrowed from, oceanography programs at the same institutions. The lack of field-observation capability limits most academic programs to theoretical and laboratory research.
All of the significant federal research facilities are operated by USACE, two by the CHL, an organization that incorporates the former Coastal Engineering Research Center at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and FRF at Duck, North Carolina. The Vicksburg facilities are used mostly by USACE for internal research and for reimbursable studies, although cooperative research with academia and industry is being encouraged. The facilities at Vicksburg include significant computing and communication equipment that can support numerical modeling, as well as outstanding physical modeling capabilities. The physical modeling facilities are used for research in waterways engineering, dredging, ports engineering, and coastal protection. The replacement value of the USACE coastal engineering research facilities in Vicksburg would be tens of millions of dollars, and they represent the largest and most comprehensive single site in the United States devoted to this discipline.
The substantial field facilities at the FRF are used to study nearshore waves, currents, and sand transport. The FRF has data-gathering and computing facilities with hundreds of channels of data capable of supporting cooperative field experiments involving large numbers of investigators from academia and commercial interests. The research pier supports the use of instrumentation across the surf zone during high-energy events, and the coastal research amphibious buggy (CRAB) permits rapid, high-resolution measurements of seafloor contours over large areas and during high-wave events. The FRF provides base support for academic research and USACE researchers who are cooperatively investigating a broad range of coastal phenomena in field experiments that have recently been held once every two or three years. These collaborative investigations are funded by a variety of agencies, such as ONR and the U.S. Geological Survey.
USACE's Inland Waterways Research Facility, used for waterways engineering, includes the exact-scale modeling of navigational channels; the ship/tow simulator facility, a computerized simulator of navigation conditions, used for realistic, real-time piloted evaluations of proposed improvements to navigation; dredging research supported by the draghead test facility for modeling hopper-dredge draghead performance and the educator loop facility for the evaluation of dredging pumps, piping, and instrumentation. Port engineering is supported by a number of large-scale hydraulic models of port systems, in which the effects of tides, currents, ocean waves, and internal oscillations can be studied. Coastal-protection research is supported by a number of basins, flumes, and channels for fixed and moveable bed modeling of nearshore dynamics.
At this time, the committee knows of no commercial laboratory facilities in the United States that are available for research in coastal engineering, although there were at least two a decade ago. Commercially funded testing and applied research are done either through contracts with a few academic institutions or overseas.