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Images: The Riddle of Rip Currents

A day on the beach usually means a hard day's work for members of the PV Lab at Woods Hole Oceanongraphic Institution. Researchers in the lab study the complex dynamics that move water and sand around near the shoreline. From left are Kohl Brinkman, Steve Elgar, Britt Raubenheimer, Liliana Velasquez Montoya, and Melissa Moulton. In this case, they dredged a manmade channel at the beach to create and study rip currents, which can imperil bathers and cause beach erosion. (Jennifer Cole)
The researchers used a 73-foot-long landing craft to create a mammoth channel—150 feet long, 90 feet wide, and 6 feet deep—in shallow water at a research beach in Duck, N.C. The channel induced the formation of rip currents that the team could study. (Bill Birkemeier, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Field Research Facility)
The researchers assemble an array of sensors to install in and around the channel they dug to study rip currents. The sensors collect data on wave heights, flows, water pressure, seafloor topography, and tidal elevation. From left, Jeff Hansen, Seth Zippel, Britt Raubenheimer, Steve Elgar, Jenna Walker, Melissa Moulton, Levi Gorrell, Danik Forsman, and Christen Rivera-Erick. (Bill Birkemeier, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Field Research Facility)
The research team uses a high-pressure hose to fluidize sand on the seafloor so that they could push pipes up to 8 feet into the seafloor. Once the sand solidifies, they attach their sensors to tops of the pipes. From left are Seth Zippel, Levi Gorrell, Regina Yopak, Britt Raubenheimer, Steve Elgar, and Dana Kurtz. (Evan Williams, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Working amid constantly breaking waves, the researchers use SCUBA gear and a staging platform to install sensors that collect data on rip currents. In the surf, from left, are Brandon Grant, Britt Raubenheimer, Kohl Brinkman, and Regina Yopak. On the platform, from left, are Levi Gorrell and Melissa Moulton. (Dave Clark, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
“The surf zone can be a hard place to make measurements,” said MIT-WHOI graduate student Melissa Moulton. “We use SCUBA gear because it's hard to hold your breath long enough to deploy or check on instruments, especially when you're getting knocked back and forth by waves and sometimes pulled in one direction by strong currents.” (Steve Elgar, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
As tides rise and ebb, flags mark the locations of sensors deployed along the shoreline to collect data on wave heights, water speed and directions, water pressure, seafloor topography, and tidal elevation. (Jennifer Cole)
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