Paper Type

Master's Thesis


College of Computing, Engineering & Construction

Degree Name

Master of Science in Civil Engineering (MSCE)



NACO controlled Corporate Body

University of North Florida. School of Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. Don T. Resio

Second Advisor

Dr. Cigdem Akan

Third Advisor

Dr. Christopher Bender

Department Chair

Dr. Osama Jadaan

College Dean

Dr. Mark A. Tumeo


Near-bottom current data was collected over a period of 8 years at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Field Research Facility in Duck, North Carolina. This data set consisted of currents measured up to three elevations above the bottom at deployment depths of 5 meters, 8 meters and 13 meters, as well as continuous real-time wind and wave data collected at the pier. The data was collated, quality checked and analyzed to define a climatology of near bottom currents along the study area using current moments. This data set had previously never been available for analysis due to the large amount of effort required to take old computer files and subject them to rigorous processing and quality control. The analyses conducted in this thesis represent the first ever attempt to analyze this type of data on this scale.

An initial monthly investigation was conducted at the 8-meter site to determine driving forces of mean currents, and a more in depth seasonal investigation was subsequently completed to quantify the relationships between the cross-shore currents and different forcing mechanisms. Once seasonal trends were established relating mean current to incident wave height, wave steepness and wind speed, an examination of some significant historical events within the study was completed to help link cross-shore current behavior to storm events. Three separate nor’easter events and three significant hurricanes (Bonnie, Dennis and Floyd) were found to produce significant cross-shore currents at the study site. Similar to previous nearshore studies, it was found that the occurrence of onshore winds and wave heights greater than about 1.5 meters produce near-bottom mean currents moving in the offshore direction. Alternatively, when winds are blowing in the offshore direction, waves are still propagating onshore, but mean near-bottom currents tend to be directed in the onshore direction.

The importance of vertical current structure within the water column was apparent, even though the instruments’ measurement elevations were all located within the bottom boundary layer. In contrast to the assumption of zero cross-shore velocity at near-coast sites implicit in two-dimensional depth averaged models used in most coastal engineering studies today, it was found that cross-shore near-bottom currents are rarely ever zero. Depth-averaged models inherently assume that currents move as a single block of water throughout the water column. The physical impacts of this misrepresentation of nearshore currents become very significant in predictions of many coastal phenomena, such as storm surge, sediment transport and wave conditions at the coast.

When wave heights exceed 2 meters, mean currents tend to be between 0.2-0.5 meters per second in both the onshore and offshore direction, in the opposite direction of the primary forcing at the surface. In some instances, wave heights are low with strong mean currents while wind speeds are high, indicating the driving force in this situation is wind speed. However, there are cases where wave heights are large and mean current values are relatively low, which requires further investigation. Future work will include investigating phenomena that are related to higher-order odd moments of the current statistics, since they are expected to play a critical role in improved understanding of the physics within the nearshore and are very much needed for predictions of coastal evolution under future sea level rise and potential climate change.